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A report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General found that enforcement activities by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration “did not sufficiently protect workers from COVID-19 health hazards.”
The report, released Monday, found that following an agency audit OSHA did not issue citations to enforce the standard for recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses in 15% of sampled fatality inspections and lacked complete information on COVID-19 infection rates at worksites.
The report also stated that throughout the pandemic the agency “closed inspections without ensuring it received and reviewed all items requested from employers to demonstrate alleged COVID-19 health hazards had been mitigated.”
“These issues occurred because OSHA had not established controls to ensure citations were issued or to document the rationale, does not require employers to report all COVID-19 cases among workers, and does not have a tool to ensure it receives and reviews all requested documentation prior to closing inspections,” the report states. “Due to the lack of citations, incomplete information on infection rates at worksites, and insufficient evidence of hazard mitigation, there is a heightened risk that workers suffered unnecessary exposure to the virus.”
A previous OIG audit found a “significant” reduction in OSHA inspections during the pandemic, while complaints significantly increased, according to the report.
In a letter attached to the report, officials at OSHA admitted they lacked reports and data on workplace infections, writing that the “need for better information about the spread of COVID-19… has been a persistent issue for government and public health authorities” and that fixing the issue “will require significant regulatory changes and investment in public and occupational health infrastructure as well as better data collection and analysis capabilities across and range of government agencies that go beyond OSHA’s ability to commit to finding a solution.”
OSHA said it agrees with some of the recommendations in the report and will take them into account in its ongoing rulemaking process for infectious disease prevention in the workplace.