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Regulations (Preambles to Final Rules) - Table of Contents
• Record Type: Abatement Verification
• Section: 1
• Title: Section 1 - I. Background

I. Background

Under the OSH Act, 29 U.S.C. 651 et seq., OSHA inspects workplaces to determine whether employers are complying with OSHA standards and other statutory and regulatory requirements. The purpose of OSHA inspections is to identify violative conditions that pose safety and health hazards to employees and to ensure that these conditions are abated. If OSHA determines that a given employer has committed a violation, a citation is issued. The citation references the alleged violation, notes the proposed penalties, and indicates the date by which the violation is to be corrected, i.e., the abatement date (see Section 9(a) of the OSH Act and 29 U.S.C. 658(a)). For each inspection, OSHA opens an employer-specific case file; this case file remains open throughout the inspection process and is not closed until the Agency is satisfied that abatement has occurred.

OSHA has followed a variety of administrative procedures in the past to ensure that employers abate cited hazards, and has modified these procedures a number of times in the years since the Agency was established. Currently, the cover letter to the employer that accompanies all OSHA citations states that the cited employer must notify the Area Director promptly by letter of completed abatements, as well as provide documentation, such as a photograph or description of the method of abatement, that abatement has occurred. OSHA also frequently conducts follow-up-inspections to verify that abatement has in fact occurred.

In May 1991, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report (GAO/HRD-91-35) to Congress in which the GAO assessed the adequacy of OSHA's policies and procedures for ensuring the abatement of cited hazards. This report found that OSHA's abatement policies and procedures had limitations that interfered with the Agency's ability to identify those employers who have failed to abate the safety and health hazards for which they had been cited. The GAO also was concerned about hazard abatement problems in the construction industry (e.g., that some construction employers, to avoid abatement, moved cited hazardous equipment to another location, where the uncorrected hazard could continue to pose a risk to unsuspecting employees). The GAO report concluded that OSHA should correct these deficiencies by issuing a regulation that requires employers to provide specific documentation that they have abated cited hazards, including detailed evidence of the corrective actions they have taken to abate such hazards, and prevents employers from circumventing abatement by removing cited movable equipment from the worksite and using it at another worksite.

Prior to the GAO report, the Agency had made several efforts to strengthen OSHA's abatement verification policies by revising the OSHA Field Operations Manual (FOM) (superseded by the Agency's Field Inspection Reference Manual); the most recent of these revisions was made in 1989. These revisions strengthened OSHA's abatement verification procedures but did little to ensure that these procedures were being applied uniformly across the regulated community.

The regulation being issued today will address the GAO's concerns while at the same time streamlining and codifying OSHA's procedures for abatement verification. Once this regulation is effective, these procedures will be enforced in a consistent way by all OSHA Area Offices, eliminating inconsistencies and reducing the amount of paperwork employers who receive citations must complete to notify OSHA of their abatement actions. In cases where abatement action can be taken immediately or be completed within 24 hours of the time the Compliance Officer has identified the violation, employers will not be required to certify abatement. In other cases, i.e., those involving other-than-serious and some serious violations, employers are required only to provide OSHA with the information shown in Appendix A or its equivalent. Additional documentation is required only for the most serious violations (e.g., serious violations that the Agency has specifically identified in the citation as requiring documentation and repeat or willful violations.

Many employers have not been aware that the abatement verification procedures employed by OSHA in the past have been administrative, rather than regulatory, in nature. For example, several commenters in this rulemaking (Exs. 4-22, 4-23, 4-28, and 4-61) were of the opinion that no abatement verification regulation was required because OSHA already has the legal means to verify abatement. These commenters were apparently unaware that, because the Agency's procedures had not been codified, they did not have the force of law.

OSHA finds that establishing effective abatement verification procedures by regulation will have a number of benefits for employers, employees, and OSHA. This abatement verification regulation will strengthen employee protection by increasing the number of cited hazards abated by employers, reduce employers' paperwork and associated costs, increase employee involvement in the abatement process, streamline the process, and increase the consistency of OSHA's abatement procedures in all areas of the country.

[62 FR 15324, March 31, 1997]

Regulations (Preambles to Final Rules) - Table of Contents

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