Workplace Safety and Health:

Further Steps by OSHA Would Enhance Monitoring of Enforcement and Effectiveness

GAO-13-61: Published: Jan 24, 2013. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 2013.

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moranr@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides more frequent monitoring and more consistent guidance for its federal enforcement activities than for state enforcement activities. More specifically, OSHA regional officials review performance reports on federal activities at least every other week but review reports on state-run program activities quarterly. In addition, OSHA's guidance for audits of its regional and area offices is more consistent than the guidance for its audits of state-run programs. Guidance for audits of its offices requires that regional offices conduct a comprehensive audit with on-site review of inspection case files at least once every 4 years and other audits focused on more specific activities in all other years. In contrast, guidance for regional office audits of state-run programs changes from year to year and does not include a regular schedule for comprehensive audits with on-site case file reviews. While the frequency of OSHA's monitoring of state-run programs is necessarily different because of the independent enforcement authority of participating states, OSHA's lack of consistent guidance for audits of these state-run programs may allow enforcement deficiencies to go undetected, increasing the risk of worker injuries, illnesses, or death. In addition, there is little participation by OSHA's national office in comprehensive audits of its regional offices despite a 2010 directive to do so. As a result, OSHA cannot ensure that the results of regional audits are impartial.

OSHA is taking steps to better assess the effectiveness of both its federal enforcement efforts and of state enforcement efforts, but it is often not clear how these steps will help OSHA demonstrate what efforts result in better outcomes for workers, such as reduced worker injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. For example, OSHA recently revised some of the measures it uses to assess staterun programs by adding acceptable ranges of performance. However, the revised measures still largely focus on outputs--such as the average number of violations per inspection--rather than outcomes. OSHA is also conducting studies to examine the results of specific enforcement activities, including one designed, in part, to evaluate the effect of OSHA providing additional educational support to employers. While tracking progress in meeting performance goals-- such as the annual number of conducted inspections--is useful, the lack of focus on outcomes makes it difficult for OSHA to determine which specific enforcement activities are most effective or to convince states to implement changes designed to improve outcomes. For example, only two state-run programs raised their penalty amounts in fiscal year 2011 as recommended by OSHA; state-run program representatives stated that OSHA lacked evidence to show that higher penalties are more effective in deterring future employer violations. OSHA also does not use data already in hand to assess the effectiveness of federal and state enforcement efforts. For example, OSHA does not use data from its annual audits of its regional and area offices or of state-run programs to inform its planning or share information across regions. Additionally, OSHA annually collects data on activities conducted under emphasis programs that focus on national safety and health issues, but it does not evaluate these data to determine whether these programs are responsible for desired outcomes.

Why GAO Did This Study

OSHA is responsible for overseeing occupational safety and health for more than 130 million workers. In about half the states, OSHA sets and enforces compliance with safety and health standards. The remaining states set and enforce their own standards under OSHA-approved plans. In fiscal year 2010, OSHA strengthened its monitoring of staterun programs following a dozen worker deaths in one of those states. Questions have since been raised about how closely OSHA monitors its own enforcement efforts. GAO examined 1) how OSHA's monitoring of its own and state enforcement efforts compares, and 2) recent steps OSHA has taken to evaluate the effectiveness of federal and state enforcement efforts. GAO reviewed OSHA's monitoring policies and procedures and relevant federal laws and regulations; analyzed federal and state audits; visited three OSHA regional offices; and interviewed OSHA officials and other experts.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that OSHA standardize guidance for its audit practices, include outcomes in its assessments of its enforcement initiatives, better use data from its audits, and ensure national office participation in audits. OSHA generally agreed with the recommendations but expressed concern about overuse of outcomes to assess effectiveness. GAO continues to believe the recommendations are valid as discussed later in the report.

For more information, contact Revae Moran at (202) 512-7215 or moranr@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to improve OSHA's assessments of its effectiveness and its monitoring of federal and state enforcement efforts, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health to consistently incorporate outcomes in its assessments of enforcement activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun taking steps to address this recommendation. OSHA plans to continue working with the Department of Labor's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy on a study to measure recidivism rates of business establishments that have been inspected by OSHA. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the effectiveness of its site specific targeting program through outcome measures. According to OSHA, the final report will be released in 2015. OSHA also plans to proceed with additional evaluations of its programs and use evidence gathered from outside evaluations that provide evidence that OSHA's enforcement activities result in lower injury rates and lower number of injury claims and/or lost workdays. We will update the recommendation pending issuance of the final report in 2015.

    Recommendation: In order to improve OSHA's assessments of its effectiveness and its monitoring of federal and state enforcement efforts, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health to annually analyze the results of its Management Accountability Program (MAP) and Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) audits to identify and address systemic problems and leading practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA has begun taking steps to address this recommendation. OSHA plans to annually analyze the results of its MAP audits and will identify and address systemic problems and leading practices. It is in the process of creating a comprehensive database to track findings and recommendations from its audits. OSHA plans to annually prepare a summary report of all audits completed in a fiscal year. OSHA also plans to continue analyzing input from the Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) reports and to formally incorporate a case file review database within the FAME process that will better enable OSHA to track and trend against information on the State Activity Mandated Measures. We will update the recommendation status pending OSHA's revision of its State Plan Policies and Procedures Manual (SP3M), due to be completed during FY 2013.

    Recommendation: In order to improve OSHA's assessments of its effectiveness and its monitoring of federal and state enforcement efforts, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health to ensure that OSHA national staff participate in regional office comprehensive audits to enhance independence in accordance with OSHA's MAP 2010 directive.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA has begun taking steps to address this recommendation. OSHA plans to have two staff from the Directorate of Evaluation and Analysis (DEA) participate in all regional comprehensive audits. We will update this recommendation status pending the completion of next year's audits, due to be completed after FY 2013.

    Recommendation: In order to improve OSHA's assessments of its effectiveness and its monitoring of federal and state enforcement efforts, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health to provide consistent guidance for scheduling state Enhanced Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (EFAME) audits to ensure that they are conducted on a regular basis and include mandatory on-site case file reviews.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA has begun taking steps to address this recommendation. OSHA plans to establish a biennial FAME schedule that includes mandatory case file review every other year. According to OSHA, this process will be formalized in the revised SP3M. We will update the recommendation status pending OSHA's revision of SP3M, due to be completed during FY 2013.

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