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The Department of Labor said in a report that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to “leverage opportunities for collaboration with external agencies” in enforcing workplace safety in high-risk industries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report from the DOL’s Office of Inspector General, released Tuesday, said OSHA received 15% more complaints in 2020 than in 2019, and conducted 50% fewer inspections. “This meant leaving employees vulnerable to COVID-19 as a workplace hazard,” the report said.
“Such employees worked in industries with some of the highest risks of COVID-19 exposure, including meat-processing plants, nursing homes, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, department stores and correctional institutions. More than 1 million mission-critical workers became infected with COVID-19 and, in some cases, did not survive,” the report said.
The OIG determined that “OSHA had not collaborated with external federal agencies’ enforcement or oversight personnel to help safeguard mission-critical U.S workers during the COVID-19 pandemic” and “did not collaborate to encourage referrals of potential COVID-19 safety and health hazards from external federal agency personnel active in industries with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure.”
The report noted that such high-risk industries have personnel on-site from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service; the Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons.
“OSHA viewed collaboration with these external agencies as separate from its enforcement capabilities, rather than as a way to enhance its enforcement,” the report stated, adding that the lack of coordination occurred when OSHA’s enforcement team “already had a historically low number of inspectors.”