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OSHA failed to adequately investigate complaints: Independent audit


Accused of lapses in inspection processes, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “may have conducted incomplete inspections and workers may have been exposed to hazardous working conditions for an extended period of time,” according to an independent audit commissioned by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General.

The auditor, hired in response to a complaint made to the DOL, reviewed 100 complaint and referral cases that were opened and closed in 2019 and 2020 and concluded that “OSHA did not consistently ensure complaints and referrals were adequately addressed nor regularly enforce hazard abatement timelines,” according to the report.  

The audit “found OSHA did not consistently involve the complainant and/or witnesses in the investigation or inspection process” and that “OSHA has no policy requiring Compliance Safety and Health Officers to interview or otherwise involve the complainant after the complaint is filed, yet that person may have key insights to ensure alleged hazards are being addressed.”

Of the 76 complaint cases reviewed, OSHA interviewed the complainant in only half of them, and in all sampled cases where OSHA interviewed the complainant and/or witnesses, each person was only interviewed once, according to the report.

The auditor also “found OSHA’s files did not contain clear reasoning as to why it did not conduct an inspection for 11 out of 30 sampled cases where a complaint or referral met its criteria for conducting an inspection” and that it “did not regularly ensure safety and health violations from complaints and referrals were corrected in a timely manner.”

The auditor reported that OSHA lacks adequate processes and a methodology to determine when complainants and witnesses should be interviewed and the appropriate amount of their involvement.

OSHA “generally disagreed” with the auditor’s recommendations on how to improve its investigations but “agreed that it can improve its documentation, customer service, and training,” according to the report.

In its response, OSHA questioned whether the sample of 100 cases was adequate in generalizing lapses in the agency’s response to complaints.