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Strong, Fair, and Effective Enforcement
OSHA's compliance officers are inspecting more sites and identifying more
hazards in their ongoing effort to make workplaces safer and more healthful.

by Donna Miles

Strong, fair, and effective enforcement. It's one of OSHA Administrator John Henshaw's three strategies for the agency to provide national leadership in safety and health on the job-often the first one he mentions, and the one he says underlies everything else OSHA does.

Although Henshaw strongly supports cooperative programs that encourage employers to voluntarily protect their workers' safety and health, he acknowledges that cooperation alone won't work with all employers. "Where we must use enforcement to get employers' attention," he told the National Safety Congress last fall, "we will."


OSHA compliance officer Young Le jots down notes as he observes an employee at work during a walkthrough of a facility being inspected.

More Inspections, Better Targeting

OSHA is making strong use of its enforcement tool: inspecting more sites and identifying more hazards and conducting a broad range of national and local emphasis programs focused on specific industries or hazards.

According to Richard Fairfax, who heads OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs, the agency's approximately 1,100 compliance safety and health officers planned to conduct 36,400 inspections during Fiscal Year 2002-but exceeded their goal by more than 1,000. This year, they've set their goal even higher, at 37,720.

"We're able to do more inspections because we're doing inspections better, targeting our enforcement to establishments where we need to be and focusing on the most serious hazards," Fairfax said.

He credits the site-specific targeting (SST) inspection program for general industry with helping compliance officers concentrate their time and energy at sites with the highest injury and illness rates. "Now we're able to focus our resources on the highest-hazard areas where people are getting hurt," he said.

There's another added benefit of the SST program, he said. Immediately after OSHA sends notices each year to the 13,000 sites with the highest injury and illness rates, many of the firms contacted call OSHA-sponsored Consultation Service offices for help. "It's obvious that many employers take those letters very seriously and begin taking steps to turn their worksites around," Fairfax said.

"And in some instances, we actually receive letters from employers at these sites, telling us that they didn't realize how high their [injury and illness] rates were and thanking us for letting them know so they could do something about it."

Henshaw told the National Safety Congress in October that OSHA is considering a similar targeting system for construction sites "so we can focus on sites that need our enforcement attention."

OSHA's Directorate of Construction sent letters to almost 14,000 of the largest U.S. construction contractors, requesting injury and illness data. According to Deputy Director H. Berrien Zettler, OSHA will rank-order the responses to identify which contractors have the highest rates, then focus more inspections at those contractors' sites. Next year, he said the directorate plans to expand its data collection to include 25,000 contractors.

Meanwhile, most of OSHA's programmed inspections-those not made in response to a complaint, referral, or fatality-are dedicated to specific hazards or high-hazard industries identified in the agency's strategic plan or in national or local emphasis programs. For general industry, more than 60 percent of inspections focus on silica, amputations, and lead hazards and on the shipyard, food processing, and nursing home industries. For construction, more than 70 percent of inspections focus on lead, silica, and trenching hazards, construction sites randomly selected from among those identified in the Dodge Reports (a census of active construction sites nationwide), and local emphasis programs and initiatives.

The inspection targeting strategy appears to be paying off. OSHA compliance officers identified more than 78,000 violations during Fiscal Year 2002. At worksites with violations, 75 percent of citations issued were for serious, repeat, or willful violations. "That means we're going to the right places and that our targeting is right. It means we're doing efficient enforcement," said Fairfax. "If we weren't finding serious violations, it would mean that something was wrong with our targeting."

Twenty-six states conduct their own inspections based on OSHA-approved safety and health plans. During more than 58,000 inspections conducted during fiscal 2002, state inspectors identified more than 144,000 violations-43 percent of them willful, repeat, or serious.

Federal OSHA's most-cited violations last year came as little surprise, involving scaffolds, hazard communication, fall protection, respiratory protection, and lockout/tagout procedures. Fairfax isn't troubled by the fact that these same violations have topped the agency's list for the past five years. "This tells me that our compliance officers are out there doing fair enforcement: focusing on violations that cause serious injuries and illnesses-not on procedural violations," he said.



Fairfax acknowledges that the agency's compliance officers have their hands full staying abreast of ever-changing workplace conditions and industrial practices. He says most regional administrators send their inspectors for at least two weeks of training every year at the OSHA Training Institute (OTI), Education Centers, or other training facilities to keep abreast of changing technology and practices. In addition, all safety specialists cross-train in industrial hygiene, and industrial hygienists, in safety issues.

A certified industrial hygienist himself, Fairfax is a strong advocate of Henshaw's initiative to increase professional certifications within the agency, particularly among its safety and health specialists. "I see this as a real plus for compliance officers, giving them more acceptance and credibility," he said.

"Let's face it. Compliance officers have a tough job. Day in and day out, they work with employers who, for the most part, really don't want them to be there," Fairfax said. "With professional certification, our compliance officers can go into a facility with the added credential that their expertise has been recognized by an outside group. It's just one more way for our people to demonstrate that they know what they're talking about and that they can help make a difference."

Increasing OSHA's Impact

Fairfax said he wants to see compliance officers making more of a difference in the workplaces they visit-not just identifying hazards, but also helping employers to reduce or eliminate them. "Our compliance officers go into so many facilities that they have a good idea of what works and what doesn't" to promote workplace safety and health, he said. "I'd like to see more emphasis on their role in abatement, doing compliance assistance to work with employers and sharing their expertise. They can review [safety and health] programs and provide guidance. They know what works. I'd like to see more employers tap into that expertise."

Although he said he's always looking at ways to increase the number of inspections OSHA conducts and to improve its targeting methods, Fairfax said he's a strong advocate of the agency's renewed emphasis on cooperative programs. "These programs work hand in hand with our enforcement effort, and one can't succeed without the other," he said.

"We need enforcement as the basis of our safety and health effort, to ensure that employers take the necessary steps to protect their workers. But it's impossible for us to inspect every facility, so enforcement alone won't work.

"Where employers want to work with OSHA, we need to be there, not enforcing, but helping them do the things they need to do to create a safe and healthful work workplace."

In his National Safety Congress address, Henshaw told the audience that, in conducting more, better-targeted inspections, OSHA is demonstrating that it's not only going to the right places, but that it's delivering the right message. "Our purpose is not to visit sites and issue citations and collect money for the general treasury," Henshaw said. "Our job is to create change where it's needed, to assure a safe and healthful workplace." JSHQ


Enforcement in Construction

Construction sites are ever-changing environments. Hazards identified today will differ from those identified last month or next week-depending on the phase of the project. Different subcontractors come and go as the projects progress.

According to H. Berrien Zettler, OSHA's deputy director for the Directorate of Construction, the agency's compliance officers have their hands full keeping pace with the countless construction projects under way at any given time.

Compounding the challenge, Zettler said, is that approximately 85 percent of all construction contractors have 11 or fewer employees and, as a result, are not required to keep injury and illness records. Moreover, contractors with more than 11 workers keep injury and illness records reflecting only their own experience at their projects. Because each contractor keeps its own separate records, no central registry covers all the occupational injuries and illnesses that occur on a single construction project.

Targeting inspections within the construction industry might not be as straight-forward as in general industry, but Zettler said targeted inspections are critical for the agency to make the best use of its enforcement resources. "Construction is the third-highest industry in terms of injury and illnesses, just behind agriculture and mining, and it has an extraordinarily high rate of fatalities, " he said.

"The bottom line is that we in OSHA have to maintain a presence on construction worksites to help identify hazards and protect workers," Zettler said. "Our goal is not to issue citations. It's to save lives."