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US Department of Labor

Occupational Safety and Health Administration


OSHA Enforcement: Ensuring Safe and Healthy Workplaces

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA's role is to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health.

OSHA is committed to refocusing OSHA's priorities through developing and enforcing standards to protect workers and moving toward tougher citations and penalties to provide a powerful incentive for employers to respect their workers, integrate protection into business operations, and make prevention a priority.

Enforcement Focus:

During the past year, OSHA has issued more egregious enforcement actions and higher fines than in previous fiscal years. This reflects Labor Secretary Hilda Solis' commitment to refocus OSHA's priorities on enforcing standards to protect workers. One of these egregious enforcement actions included the largest total penalty in OSHA's history. The penalty, $81,340,000, was issued to BP Products North America Inc. for the company's failure to correct potential hazards faced by employees. The prior largest total penalty, $21 million, was issued in 2005, also against BP. Other egregious enforcement actions have included fines for significant hazards at a cement and asphalt bagging plant in Scotia, New York and more than $1.6 million following the death of a teen worker at a grain storage site.

OSHA's renewed emphasis on enforcement also includes the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). The SVEP is slated to replace the Enhanced Enforcement Program this fiscal year. The SVEP will concentrate OSHA's resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference to their OSH Act obligations by committing willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations. Enforcement actions for severe violator cases include mandatory follow-up inspections, increased company/corporate aware­ness of OSHA enforcement, corporate-wide agreements (where appropriate) enhanced settlement provisions, and federal court enforcement under Section 11(b) of the OSH Act.

OSHA Enforcement Activity: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009

On February 18, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Tens of thousands of people have been put to work improving our nation's roads, bridges, waterways, and mass transit systems. OSHA's efforts are focused not only on the employers directly involved in infrastructure work and green energy projects, but also on the support industries that provide materials and services to these projects. To deal with the safety and health implications of the ARRA, OSHA has enhanced enforcement resources, launched new local emphasis programs, provided new compliance assistance materials and training, and provided new avenues for notification to corporations and industry sectors, as well as noted and observed safety and health deficiencies. OSHA's role has been ensuring that worker protection laws are enforced as recovery infrastructure investments are carried out.

During FY 2009, federal OSHA conducted 1,546 total inspections coded as ARRA, 62% of which were programmed inspections. The total number of violations cited was 2,382 with 72% issued as serious. To date, OSHA has conducted 2,215 total inspections, 64 % of which have been programmed and 36% have been unprogrammed. Of these inspections, there were a total of 5,127 violations cited, with 74% total violations issued as serious. The average current penalty per serious violation to date has been $1,070.

FY 2009 (April 1 - September 30) - Federal OSHA Inspections Coded NO2-ARRA - Bar chart showing Regions on the X axis and Inspections on the Y axis. Region 1: 137. Region 2: 284. Region 3: 221. Region 4: 83. Region 5: 409. Region 6: 79. Region 7: 157. Region 8: 128. Region 9: 12. Region 10: 36.

OSHA Going Green:

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recently announced nearly $55 million in green job grants, authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. These grants will support job training and labor market information programs to help workers, many in underserved communities, find jobs in expanding green industries and related occupations.

Hazards found in these rapidly growing green industries can be "typical" workplace hazards like fall hazards, chemical exposure, lockout/tagout, confined space, fire, and machine guarding. Although OSHA already has several standards that cover many of the hazards in green industries, the Agency is developing a webpage on green jobs that will focus on various industry sectors, sponsoring a forum that fosters collaboration between the small business community and federal government, and will be working closely with NIOSH in addressing the green jobs hazards.

Injury and Illness Rates:  Record Lows in CY 2008

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 2008, reported on October 29, 2009, 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 18.8% since calendar year 2004, 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 20% over the same period.

Total Recordable Case Rate graph - showing years on X axis and Rate of Injury & Illness Cases Per 100 Full-Time Workers on the Y axis. 2004: 4.8. 2005: 4.6. 2006: 4.4. 2007: 4.2. 2008: 3.9.
Injury and Illness Rates12 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 % Reduction 2004-2008
Total Recordable Case Rate 4.8 4.6 4.4 4.2 3.9 -18.8%
Days Away/Restricted Case Rate 2.5 2.4 2.3 2.1 2.0 -20.0%

Days Away/Restricted Case Rate

Days Away/Restricted Case Rate graph - Showing years on X axis and Rate of Injury & Illness Cases Per 100 Full-Time Workers on the Y axis. 2004: 2.5. 2005: 2.4. 2006: 2.3. 2007: 2.1. 2008: 2.0.

Workplace Fatality Rate:  Rate continues to decline

OSHA continues to aggressively pursue the reduction of workplace fatalities.  In calendar year 2008, a total of 5,071 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States, down from a total of 5,657 fatal work injuries reported for 2007.  Additionally, the rate of fatal work injuries was 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 employees, down from 4.0 the previous year.  This preliminary data not only represents the smallest annual preliminary totals, but also signifies the largest decrease in fatalities since the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program was first conducted 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.  As a result, the fatality rate for Hispanic workers has decreased by 11% since 2003.

Fatality Statistics 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Total Number of Fatalities 5,575 5,764 5,734 5,840 5,657 5,071
Fatality Rate 4.0 4.1 4.0 4.0 4.0 3.6
Hispanic Fatality Rate 4.5 5.0 4.9 5.0 4.6 4.0


Chart of total number of fatalities. Years showing on X axis, fatalities on Y axis. 2003: 5,575. 2004: 5,764. 2005: 5,734. 2006: 5,840. 2007: 5,657. 2008: 5,071.
Chart of Total Fatality Rate vs. Hispanic Fatality Rate. X axis showing years, with two bars per year showing Fatality Rate and Hispanic Fatality Rate, Y axis showing rate. 2003: 4.0/4.5. 2004: 4.1/5.0. 2005: 4.0/4.9. 2006: 4.0/5.0. 2007: 4.0/4.6. 2008: 3.6/4.0.

Criminal Penalties: Department of Justice Referrals

Section 17(e) of the OSH Act provides criminal penalties for an employer who is convicted of having willfully violated an OSHA standard, rule or order when the violation results in the death of an employee. Cases that may be appropriate for criminal prosecution are referred to the Department of Justice.

  2006 2007 2008 2009
Criminal Referrals 12 10 14 11

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 FY 2009, OSHA conducted 39,004 total inspections.  This year's significant enforcement actions included 120 inspections; each resulting in a total proposed monetary penalty of more than $100,000.  OSHA conducted 24,316 programmed inspections and 14,688 unprogrammed inspections, including employee complaints, accidents, and referrals.  The number of fatality investigations decreased by 28.5%; a significant decrease over the past five fiscal years, thus demonstrating OSHA's firm commitment to reducing the number of workplace fatalities.

OSHA Inspection Statistics FY2005 FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 FY2009 %Change
Total Inspectionn 38,714 38,579 39,324 38,667 39,004 75%
Total Programmed Inspections 21,404 21,506 23,035 23,041 24,316 13.6%
Total Unprogrammed Inspections 17,310 17,073 16,289 15,626 14,688 -15.1%
  Fatality Invesgitations 1,114 1,081 1,043 936 797 -28.5%
  Complaints 7,716 7,376 7,055 6,708 6,661 -13.7%
  Referrals 7,787 5,019 5,007 4,880 4,375 -8.6%
  Other 4,693 3,597 3,184 3,102 2,855 -39.2%

Hazards Identified: Total Violations Decrease; Serious 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 FY 2009, 87,663 violations of OSHA's standards and regulations were found in the nation's workplaces, a 2.8% increase since FY 2005.  The total number of serious and repeat violations issued increased by 10.9% and 17.5%, respectively, over the past five years.  The total number of willful violations issued significantly decreased since FY 2005, decreasing by 46.3%.

OSHA Violation Statistics FY2005 FY2006 FY2007 FY2008 FY2009 %Change
Total Violations 85,307 83,913 88,846 87,687 87,663 2.8%
Total Serious Violations 61,018 61,337 67,176 67,052 67,668 10.9%
Total Willful Violations 747 479 415 517 401 -46.3%
Total Repeat Violations 2,350 2,551 2,714 2,817 2,762 17.5%
Total Other-than-Serious 20,819 19,246 18.,331 17,131 16,615 -20.2%

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 FY2009, OSHA completed 1,205 investigations of 11(c) complaints.  Twenty four percent were meritorious complaints, 92% of which resulted in settlements.  Sixty percent of the complaints were dismissed, and 16% were withdrawn.

The 26 state programs completed 999 whistleblower investigations.  Nineteen percent were meritorious, 73% of which resulted in settlements.  Sixty-six percent of the complaints were dismissed, and 15% 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, as well as focusing on employers who are involved in emerging technologies in green jobs.  OSHA remains steadfast in its commitment to effectively identify serious safety and health hazards, to address recalcitrant employers, and to efficiently utilize its resources.  OSHA's continual focus on its bottom line of reducing workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities will enable OSHA to help make good jobs, safe jobs.

1Rates reflect number of cases per 100 full-time employees [back to text]

2Rates are for private industry employers [back to text]