OSHA Enforcement: Ensuring Safe and Healthy Workplaces

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) mission is to promote and to assure workplace safety and health and to reduce workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. OSHA continues to respond to new challenges from emerging industries, new technologies, and an ever-changing workforce by utilizing strategic mechanisms such as Site Specific Targeting (SST), National Emphasis Programs (NEPs), and the Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP).

OSHA's enforcement programs remain focused and efficient. Although there are many components to OSHA's effort, and multiple intermediate measures of its effectiveness, the most meaningful indicator of OSHA's success is the number of employees who go home every day healthy and uninjured.

Enhanced Enforcement Program: OSHA revised the program in January 2008

After four years of implementation, OSHA updated the EEP program in a January 2008 directive. The purpose of the program remains the same, to target those employers who are indifferent to their obligations under the OSH Act. However, the criteria have been revised to provide greater focus on those employers that have a history of past serious, willful and/or repeat violations with OSHA. During the first five years (FY2004-2008) of the program, OSHA identified 2,471 inspections that qualified for the EEP.

OSHA Enforcement Activity: Areas of Emphasis

In the OSHA FY 2008 Operating Plan, OSHA identifies industries with high injury/illness rates and a high proportion of severe injuries/illnesses for focused targeting of outreach, education, and enforcement activities. These areas of emphasis include:

Industry Areas of Emphasis

  • Landscaping
  • Oil and gas field services
  • Residential building construction
  • Commercial and institution building construction
  • Highway, street, and bridge construction

Fatality Hazard Areas of Emphasis

  • Fall from elevation
  • Trenching
  • Struck by
  • Powered Industrial vehicle
  • Electrical

National Emphasis Programs: Targeted Strategy

National Emphasis Programs (NEPs) focus on major health and/or safety hazards which are of recognized national significance. They provide guidance to the OSHA field offices for program planning and for conducting inspections consistently across the nation. On July 27, 2007, the NEP on Microwave Popcorn Processing Plants was issued in order to identify and to reduce or to eliminate exposures to butter-flavoring chemicals used in microwave popcorn manufacturing facilities. A few months later, on January 24, 2008, the Crystalline Silica NEP was signed by the Assistant Secretary. Other current NEPs include:

  • Petroleum Refinery Process Safety Management
  • Combustible Dust
  • Lead
  • Amputations
  • Shipbreaking
  • Trenching

During FY2008, OSHA conducted 8,730 inspections (out of 38,591 total inspections) that were related to an NEP.

Injury and Illness Rates: Record Lows in FY2007

The Total Recordable and Days Away/Restricted case rates continued to decline, indicating that fewer American employees encountered safety or health hazards resulting in serious injuries or illnesses. The rates for calendar year 2007, reported on October 23, 2008, were lower than the previous year, and thus, were the lowest rates that BLS has ever reported. Not only has the rate at which employees experienced a recordable injury decreased by 16.0% since calendar year 2003, but also the Days Away/Restricted case rate, the measure of cases in which employees were absent from work, restricted, or transferred as a result of a workplace injury or illness, has declined by 19.2% over the same period.

2008 Enforcement Data

Injury and Illness Rates1,2 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 % Reduction 2003-2007
Total Recordable Case Rate 5.0 4.8 4.6 4.4 4.2 - 16.0%
Days Away/Restricted Case Rate 2.6 2.5 2.4 2.3 2.1 -19.2%

Workplace Fatality Rate: An All-Time Low

OSHA continues to aggressively pursue the reduction of workplace fatalities. In calendar year 2007, the rate of fatal work injuries was 3.7 fatalities per 100,000 employees, down from 4.0 the previous year. This preliminary rate is the all-time lowest rate achieved since the Bureau of Labor Statistics instituted its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 1992.

OSHA continues to broaden its efforts to reach at-risk Hispanic employees with targeted initiatives that include Spanish-language publications available in print and on OSHA's website, along with other compliance assistance information. Additionally, OSHA's Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs) target industries in which Hispanic employees are significantly represented. The fatality rate for Hispanic workers has decreased by 12% since 2002.

Fatality Statistics 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007* % Reduction 2002-2007
Total Number of Fatalities 5,524 5,575 5,764 5,734 5,840 5,488 -0.7%
Fatality Rate3 4.0 4.0 4.1 4.0 4.0 3.7 -7.5%
Hispanic Fatality Rate3 5.0 4.5 5.0 4.9 5.0 4.4 -12.0%


Inspection Data 2008Inspection Data 2008

OSHA Inspection Activity: Focused and Efficient

By proactively targeting the industries and employers that experience the greatest number of workplace injuries and illnesses, OSHA continues to maintain its high level of annual inspection activity. In FY2008, OSHA conducted 38,591 total inspections. This total represents 2.4% more inspections than OSHA's stated goal of 37,700. This year's significant enforcement actions included 121 inspections that each resulted in a total proposed monetary penalty of over $100,000. OSHA conducted 23,023 programmed inspections in FY2008, which was a significant 6.7% increase over the past five fiscal years. OSHA also conducted 15,565 unprogrammed inspections, including employee complaints, accidents, and referrals, thus demonstrating OSHA's firm commitment to be continually responsive to employee concerns related to workplace safety and health. By fostering good working relationships with state, local, and other federal authorities, OSHA experienced a 5.9% increase over the past five fiscal years in the number of inspections generated through referrals from other governmental agencies. Additionally, the number of fatality investigations decreased by 9.7% over the past five fiscal years.

OSHA Inspection Statistics FY2004 FY2005 FY2006 FY2007 FY 2008 % Change 2004-2008
Total Inspections 39,167 38,714 38,579 39,324 38,591 -1.5%
Total Programmed Inspections 21,576 21,404 21,506 23,035 23,023 6.7%
Total Unprogrammed Inspections 17,590 17,310 17,073 16,288 15,565 -11.5%
Fatality Investigations 1,060 1,114 1,081 1,043 957 -9.7%
Complaints 8,062 7,716 7,376 7,055 6,697 -16.9%
Referrals 4,585 4,787 5,019 5,007 4,855 5.9%
Other 3,829 4,807 3,555 3,183 3,056 -20.2%

Hazards Identified: Total Violations Rise; Serious and Repeat Violations Increase

While total injury and illness rates continue to decline, OSHA continues to direct enforcement resources to those establishments with the highest incidence of serious hazards. In FY2008, 87,687 violations of OSHA's standards and regulations were found in the nation's workplaces, a 1.1% increase since FY2004. The number of serious, willful, and repeat violations issued increased significantly over the previous fiscal year, as well as over the past five fiscal years. The considerable increases in these types of violations demonstrate OSHA's commitment to identifying and to eliminating a greater number of serious hazards in the workplace, as well as identifying more employers who have intentionally and/or repeatedly violated OSHA standards.

OSHA Violation Statistics FY2004 FY2005 FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 % Change 2004-2007
Total Violations 86,708 85,307 83,913 88,846 87,687 1.1%
Total Serious Violations 61,666 61,018 61,337 67,176 67,052 8.7%
Total Willful Violations 462 747 479 415 517 11.9%
Total Repeat Violations 2,360 2,350 2,551 2,714 2,817 19.4%

Total Other-than-Serious

21,705 20,819 19,246 18,331 17,131 -21.1%

Whistleblower Complaint Protection: Integral to OSHA's Mission

Section 11(c) of the Act prohibits reprisals, in any form, against employees who exercise rights under the Act. The administration of Section 11(c) is thus integral to OSHA's core mission.

In FY2008, OSHA completed 1,259 investigations of 11(c) complaints. Twenty percent were meritorious complaints, 94% of which resulted in settlements. Sixty-three percent of the complaints were dismissed, and 17% were withdrawn.

The 26 state programs completed 1,007 whistleblower investigations. Twenty-one percent were meritorious, 74% of which resulted in settlements. Sixty-four percent of the complaints were dismissed, and 16% were withdrawn.


OSHA's enforcement efforts remain critical to workplace safety and health by targeting the most hazardous workplaces and the employers that have the highest injury and illness rates. Innovative approaches such as the EEP, SST, and NEPs enable OSHA to effectively identify serious safety and health hazards, to address recalcitrant employers, and to efficiently use its resources. OSHA's continual focus on its bottom line, reducing workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities, adds value to the workplace for both employers and employees.