Staffing continues to plague OSHAPosted On: Dec. 14, 2022 9:52 AM CST
The number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors has fallen “steadily” from a high of 860 in 2014 to 750 in 2021, an issue that has made it difficult for the agency to protect workers at an estimated 8 million work sites, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General on the department’s top management and performance challenges.
The annual report follows a similar one in November, where the OIG said OSHA during the pandemic “did not sufficiently protect workers from COVID-19 health hazards.”
Tuesday’s report noted that it can take up to five years for an inspector to be fully trained, and that more money in the agency’s budget this year did not correct the issue. “Even though OSHA’s budget request included the hiring of 155 new inspectors in FY 2022, the current lack of available inspectors and time lag for an inspector to become fully trained can lead to less inspections, diminished enforcement of high-risk industries, and ultimately, greater risk of injuries or compromised health for workers,” the report said.
In addition, OSHA has been at a disadvantage to protect workers who report potential worksite safety violations and complete subsequent whistleblower investigations within the statutory requirement of 30, 60, or 90 days, the inspector general’s office found.
“The pandemic caused a significant increase in the number of whistleblower complaints OSHA received, while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, including inspectors within OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program, decreased,” the report said, adding that during the preliminary months of the pandemic, Feb. 1, 2020, through May 31, 2020, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program received 4,101 complaints, a 30% increase over the complaints received during the same period in 2019.
Underreporting of injuries by employers is also an issue that makes it difficult for the agency to determine the most hazardous worksites, “which limits their ability to focus inspection and compliance efforts where they are most needed,” the report said.