Employers in the manufacturing and construction industries may be more likely to face visits from U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials under the federal government’s new weighting system for safety inspections at a time where inspector shortages are a problem, experts say.
“What (OSHA is) hoping to accomplish is, in high risk industries where there are larger numbers of injures, perhaps placing more attention on those industries would therefore reduce the rate of injuries and/or fatalities or illness,” said Jim Thornton, president of Hampton, Virginia-based Alpha Industries LLC and chief of the government affairs committee for the American Society of Safety Professionals.
“My hope would be that is what they are focusing on — putting a little more attention on industries or hazards in which the people are getting injured” and inspecting them more frequently,” he added.
OSHA, which initiated its revised system Oct. 1, confirmed the new focus, which labor experts say should have even low-hazard businesses that report even cuts and scrapes alert.
“The revised system will enable the agency to focus resources on the most hazardous conditions that put workers at the greatest risk of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities,” said Patrick Kapust, acting director for the OSHA Directorate of Enforcement Programs in an email. “The expected result is increased worker safety.”
With the new system, the likelihood of a company being inspected will be based on a number of factors, including the expected impact of the inspections, placing a “higher inspection value” for workplaces that have criminal or significant cases, complex hazards, a fatality or catastrophe in its history, face hazards that are one of the four leading causes of death in the workplace, or are listed in the agency’s site specific targeting plan, according to OSHA.
Previously, OSHA used the number of completed inspections to measure its enforcement activity — prioritizing based on the time an inspection took to complete in its 2015 weighting approach — which unintendedly incentivized “less demanding inspections,” according to an agency memo issued Sept. 30.
“(OSHA) will probably look at those industries that have the highest hazards,” said Mr. Thornton. “I suspect construction and manufacturing operations will get more attention under this new model.”
The new weighting system is a natural progression from the 2015 system, and makes sense as it prevents investigators from shying away from particularly complex or lengthy investigations, said Aaron Gelb, a partner in the Chicago office of Conn Maciel Carey LLP.
Rather than having investigators graded on the number of inspections, where they may be more likely to choose what Mr. Gelb called “cup of coffee investigations,” such as driving by a construction site to catch obvious violations, OSHA is prioritizing the more significant hazards, he said.
These hazards, which are often referred to as the fatal four, include caught-in hazards, electrical hazards, fall hazards and struck-by hazards, according to OSHA.
“If you as an employer have those hazards … (and) report a hospitalization, you’re almost certainly going to get investigated or inspected,” said Mr. Gelb. “You can expect now that area offices are going to get more points or more weight because of those investigations.”
It’s not entirely clear, however, whether OSHA area directors will receive unit credit under the weighting program for participating in educational programming for companies, said Mr. Gelb. Such programs include participating in a panel discussion at a safety association meeting and taking questions on OSHA compliance.
Adding site-specific targeting to the list of priority categories under the new weighting system is an example that the program is “here to stay for the foreseeable future, and perhaps provides a little more incentive to do those types of (wall-to-wall) investigations,” said Mr. Gelb.
Employers with nonhazardous workplaces should also take note, according to experts.
In October of 2018, OSHA revamped its site-specific targeting plan, which scheduled detailed inspections for nonconstruction employers based on their electronically submitted OSHA 300 log data — due March 2 of each year — and how their injury and illness rates compare with their industry peers, said Gary Glader, president of Orland Park, Illinois-based Horton Safety Consultants, a subsidiary of The Horton Group.
This change in the weighting system will give more credit for site-specific targeting inspections, but employers with more than 20 employees in nonconstruction workplaces need to become “intimately aware” of the fact that higher recordables on their OSHA logs could make them a comprehensive inspection target, he said.
“In my experience, small and medium size employers … have a tendency to overreport (injuries),” said Mr. Glader. “If they fail to do an accurate job with recordkeeping and overreport, they may falsely be implicating themselves.”
He suggests employers check to make sure they’re using the proper North American Industry Classification System code for peer comparison in site-specific targeting, and also review their OSHA 300 log procedures and make sure that incidents that shouldn’t be recorded aren’t on the log. For example, a laceration that required treatment but no stitches or a sprain or strain that resulted in a doctor’s visit but no prescription — just a directive to take over-the-counter medications — are not recordable, and a soft tissue injury that is later determined not to be work related can be removed from the log, he said.
“You have to pay attention to incidents as they play out and be familiar enough with record-keeping requirements … in many cases, an employer fails to remove them from the log,” he said.
With OSHA’s limited resources, Mr. Thornton said the weighted approach makes sense to better allocate resources so that companies reporting certain types of injuries and types of hazards may be targeted for an inspection.
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