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
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
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,"
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
"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
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