A new study published by the U.S Department of Labor indicates that the number of workplace complaints has increased, but the number of onsite inspections has dropped substantially. This leaves workers at risk and raises the probability that hazards are being ignored. In the thirty-two-page study, the U.S Department of Labor explains their research and subsequent numbers that led them to this conclusion. The purpose of this article is to help others easily understand the subject matter within the new study. This way, many people can be informed about the situation without having to take the time to read through a lengthy paper.
Why the Office of Inspector General Conducted the AuditThe Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation because the COVID-19 pandemic has created a dangerous environment for current workers, and they wanted to see how OSHA was responding to new hazards. The health and safety of workers are extremely important, and it was vital to view the measures implemented by OSHA that would keep workers safe. OSHA has recently caught the attention of the media and congress due to their recent surge of complaints and have been pressured to implement stronger regulations to protect the one hundred and thirty million workers under their wing. The audit was performed in hopes to answer the following questions: What plans has OSHA developed to address new challenges presented by COVID-19? Do these plans affect OSHA's ability to protect the safety of workers?
The Results of the AuditOSHA received 15% more complaints between February 1st and October 26th in 2020. Despite the increase in complaints, the number of inspections performed had decreased by 50%. With the pandemic, fewer investigations were being conducted and the majority of the ones that were conducted were not completed on site. This indicates that, though they were trying to reduce the infection rates, they were not providing the same level of protection as they were before. With the investigations being conducted remotely, it was likely that any hazards or dangers within the workforce were not noticed or not given a proper response. Those hazards could then go on to cause serious harm to workers.
Furthermore, OSHA did not implement an emergency temporary standard that would require employers to follow new rules put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They distributed guidance on what employers SHOULD do, but did not require them to do so. Two hundred and ninety-five violations were given out while conducting one hundred and seventeen COVID-19 related inspections. Despite the violations, they did not require businesses to take extra measures to protect the workers.
Many labor organizations were concerned that OSHA was not providing their usual standard of care. Those in higher-risk industries such as healthcare, transportation, and other essential businesses noticed the lack of safety more than others. Reducing the amount of in-person inspections can lead to increased worker injuries, sicknesses, and deaths.
By October 26th, 2020, OSHA had performed 1,133 inspections related to COVID-19. Six hundred and eighty-two of the inspections were performed due to fatalities, and four hundred and fifty-one were due to COVID-19 complaints. Between August 21st and October 26th of 2020, two hundred and eighty-five violations were given during one hundred and seventy-two inspections. The violations were distributed into multiple different industries such as nursing facilities, general medical and surgical hospitals, specialty hospitals, disability facilities, and physician offices.
All of the violations were for non-compliance with standards from OSHA. Some examples are the bloodborne pathogens standard, the respiratory protection standard, and the general requirements of personal protective equipment. It also included hazard communication and waste operations.
What was Recommended to OSHABy October 26tth, 2020, OSHA had released 33 guidance papers for employers and 11 COVID-19 related guidance documents to enhance the safety of workplaces. Even though they are responsible for the safety of 130 million workers, their measures issued in the early months of the pandemic did not emphasize the importance of inspections. Instead of reducing the number of inspections, OSHA should have increased the number of inspections. They also should have performed more inspections within higher-risk industries such as healthcare workers and other employees.
The Office of Inspector General recommended that OSHA should track remote inspections moving forward and reassess the current situation to determine if it is necessary to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to slow the spread of COVID-19. It was also recommended that they prioritize high-risk industries for onsite inspections and document the time it takes an inspector to identify a hazard and fix it.
OSHA's ResponseOSHA agreed with the recommendations and has begun to work on a national program to focus enforcement efforts onto COVID-19 related violations that put the greatest amount of workers at risk. They were inspired to do so by the Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety issued by Joe Biden. The executive order places emphasis on quickly reducing the amount of COVID-19 risks present in various industries. Workers in high-risk industries have risked their lives to continue working throughout the pandemic, and deserve the protection that OSHA offers to its workers.
In ConclusionThe increase of complaints from workplaces and the decrease of onsite inspections being performed indicated that OSHA was not doing their best with providing the same level of protection they provided before the COVID-19 pandemic. The decrease in onsite inspections made it very easy for COVID-19 related hazards and non-related hazards to go unnoticed for longer than usual. Those hazards put workers in high-risk industries at a higher risk of infection or injury. After the audit was completed, the Office of Inspector General recommended that OSHA begin to increase and track on-site and remote inspections. It was also recommended that they take action on enforcing violations that put the most amount of workers at risk. Finally, they were asked to reevaluate the situation and determine if it's necessary to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to regulate new safety regulations within the workforce. By taking these steps, OSHA can begin to protect employers and workers under their care from COVID-19.