Department of Labor

Recommendations and Actions

DOL10: Refocus the Responsibility for Ensuring Workplace Safety and Health

Background In October 1970, the U. S. Senate's Committee on Labor and Public Welfare released its report on the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act) of 1970. In that report, the Committee recognized "the possibility of limited inspection manpower in the earlier phases of the program" and that "the number of inspections which it would be desirable to have made will undoubtedly, for an unforeseeable period, exceed the capacity of the inspection force."(1) Later that year, Congress passed the Act to protect 60 million U.S. workers, 55 of whom were dying on the job each working day.

Twenty-three years later, on any average working day, at least 40 U.S. workers still die from injuries occurring in the workplace, and about 11,000 are injured seriously enough to lose work time or experience restricted work activity.(2) Although some organizations estimate that 11,000 U.S. workers are permanently disabled each year as a result of an occupational injury, other organizations calculate that number to be as high as 60,000.(3) As for the costs of injuries in dollars, the Rand Institute for Civil Justice reports that workplace accidents cost the nation $83 billion annually.(4) To these losses, the costs--in dollars, productivity, and human life--of long- term occupational diseases must be added. Tens of thousands of workers die prematurely each year as a result of these diseases.

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for enforcing the provisions of the Act. OSHA and approved state programs, which OSHA oversees and partially funds, currently employ just 2,400 inspectors to enforce safety and health standards for 93 million workers at more than 6.2 million worksites.(5) Consequently, there are only enough federal inspectors to inspect even the most hazardous workplaces every several years.(6) In addition, OSHA follow-up is minimal. According to fiscal year 1992 data, OSHA follows up on only three percent of all inspections.(7)

A new approach is needed--one that refocuses the responsibility for ensuring worksite safety and health on the workplace.


1. The Secretary of Labor should issue regulations requiring employers to develop worksite safety and health programs and to conduct inspections for safety and health.

The Secretary should issue regulations requiring employers to develop and implement a worksite safety and health program that includes provisions for the identification and correction of hazards, investigating and recording injuries and illnesses, and training and education. The program should also include one of two options for conducting worksite inspections to ensure compliance with all applicable requirements.

The first option is that employers could be authorized to use certified, private companies to audit their safety and health programs. The specific authorities and responsibilities of OSHA, employers, and the private companies will need to be specified. For example, OSHA responsibilities would include certifying the qualifications of private companies to ensure competence and independence, prescribing inspection and reporting standards, conducting random reviews of private audit reports, and conducting its own on-site inspections. The private companies would take responsibility for reviewing employer safety and health programs, conducting inspections of worksites, obtaining employee participation in the process, and taking other actions needed to evaluate worksite- based programs. They would also provide employers with a safety and health report, including a recommended corrective action plan. Employers would be responsible for developing and implementing the safety and health program, arranging for inspections or audits, and implementing corrective actions.

As an alternative, employers could be authorized to use non- managerial employees of a workplace to audit program operations. Employee participation on safety and health teams or committees could be provided through the use of employee experts for specific inspections, employee-selected safety and health representatives, or employee volunteers. Employees who participate in a safety and health audit would need to receive certified training by an OSHA-approved process.

The responsibilities of employee teams or committees would include those actions needed to effectively review an employer's existing safety and health program, such as reviewing reports of incidents resulting in work-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses; reviewing the employer's work injury and illness records; and conducting inspections of the worksites.

OSHA's role would be to conduct random audits of the team or committee reports, provide technical assistance, and conduct its own random inspections of worksites.

OSHA should exercise its authority to require certain employers to submit the results of their audits to OSHA. A system should be established to charge and collect from employers the costs of providing technical assistance. Through these efforts, employers could determine how well their own safety and health programs are enabling them to comply with applicable safety and health requirements and to take any necessary remedial actions.

2. Establish a sliding scale of incentives and penalties for ensuring workplace safety and health.

This scale should go into effect a year or two after the requirements concerning self-inspections are established. The scale would be used to provide incentives to employers who maintain workplace safety and health. The scale could include reduced inspection and audit frequency for employers who have superior health and safety records, reduced penalties for employers who make a good-faith effort, contracting preferences, community right to know about individual employer performance, increased inspection frequency and fines for poor performers, and federal contracting bars. Penalties should bear a reasonable relation to the cost of compliance in order to create an incentive for employers to make the investments necessary to comply with OSHA standards.


Either option selected by an employer should substantially increase current safety and health inspection and prevention efforts and reduce injuries and time lost on the job.

The first option may create jobs in the private sector as a private inspection industry grows to meet demand. The number of safety and health training programs would also grow because there are currently too few qualified safety and health professionals to provide such services. Although some employers may oppose it because of the costs involved in arranging and paying for inspections, others may welcome a more comprehensive approach to workplace safety that reduces injuries and worker compensation costs.

Under the alternative recommendation, with employee "inspectors" on site daily, the safety and health environment of the establishment could be maintained at a higher level. It is also possible that the strong involvement of both labor and management may help them accept ownership of the problem and have safety and health concerns become a true part of the day-to-day operations.

Both options create the potential for circumvention of the Act's requirements. The agency's previous experience with "record-only inspections" was unfavorable. OSHA would still continue to conduct its own on-site inspections.

The concept of employee involvement with worksite safety and health inspections, specifically through the use of labor-management committees, is promoted in versions of the Comprehensive Occupational Safety and Health Reform Act of 1993 sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Congressman William Ford (D-MI). In testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee, Secretary of Labor Robert Reich promised that Labor's OSHA Reform Task Force would carefully review the proposed legislation. This task force has been at work since April 1993, and has met with dozens of business, labor, and professional groups. It completed its initial work in September. An administration position on the legislation is expected soon.

Fiscal Impact

At this time, without knowing which options may be chosen to implement this audit requirement, the potential costs and savings involved with these recommendations cannot be determined.


1. U.S. Congress, Senate, Subcommittee on Labor of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Legislative History of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (June 1971), p. 152.

2. National Safety Council, "Accident Facts 1992 Edition," p. 37; and U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Occupational Injuries and Illnesses in the United States by Industry, 1991, Bulletin 2424 (Washington, D.C., 1992), p. 40. BLS estimates that there were nearly 2.8 million lost workday cases resulting from injuries in 1991. Therefore, 2,800,000 lost work days/250 work days = 11,200 lost work days/day.

3. Estimates by OSHA's Office of Statistics based on information provided by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).

4. Rand Institute for Civil Justice, Compensation for Accidental Injuries in the United States: Executive Summary (1989), p. 13.

5. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, County Business Patterns, Bulletin CBP-90-1 (Washington, D.C., 1990), p. 3.

6. Estimate provided by OSHA's Office of Statistics.

7. Data provided by OSHA's Integrated Management Information System.

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