Agency Says Inspections, Citations Rose in '03

For the third year in a row, OSHA inspections and serious violations of agency standards increased in 2003, according to data released by the agency in late November.

Total employer violations also rose last year by more than seven percent over 2002, giving credence to OSHA Administrator John Henshaw's assertion that the agency remains committed to strong enforcement, despite a generally pro-business policy agenda.

Henshaw has always contended that higher enforcement numbers are secondary, and that the true measure of OSHA's effectiveness is lower injury, illness and fatality rates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has no 2003 data, but fatality rates dropped 6.6 percent in 2002 from the year before. In addition, in 2001 (the most recent year for which data are available), the total recordable case rate for injuries and illnesses declined to the lowest level since the U.S. began collecting data: 5.7 cases per 100 workers.

Henshaw did not begin to lead OSHA until late in 2001, so it is debatable whether the 2001 illness and injury data reflect the policies of the new administration. Given the time it can take for a government agency to implement new priorities, even 2002 may be too soon for new programs to take effect.

Nevertheless, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said the numbers showed the positive results of her department's new approach, which has emphasized enforcement on repeat offenders and increased investment in compliance assistance tools.

"We never forget that behind every enforcement statistic and legal action is a person who needs our help," Chao said. "[These announcements] are an indication of how seriously this administration takes its commitment to protect the safety and security of America's workers."

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