OSHA Inspections Fell, Violations Rose in 2004

John Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health (OSHA), released the agency's annual enforcement statistics for fiscal year 2004, declaring the agency's inspection program remained strong and effective.

Henshaw said the agency cited 86,708 violations of OSHA standards in FY 2004, an increase of 3.8 percent from last year. A total of 16 of last year's citations were for ergonomics issues, a total achieved after OSHA conducted 1,900 ergonomics inspections.

Serious violations rose 3 percent and willful violations increased 14 percent over FY 2003. Henshaw said these figures indicate OSHA's Site-Specific Targeting program is helping the agency get to high-hazard worksites.

OSHA completed 39,167 total inspections in FY 2004, more than its 37,000 goal, but fewer than last year's 39,817 total. Included in this year's total are more than 300 inspections that fall under the new Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP), an effort to go after employers who repeatedly violate OSHA rules.

Significant cases, or those with proposed penalties over $100,000, rose for the second year in a row to 122, although this number is down sharply from the final years of the Clinton administration, with a high of 199 in FY 1997.

Despite using the inspection and citation numbers as a sign of success, Henshaw contended that OSHA is not interested in racking up big fines or increased activities. "Our interest is assuring workplaces change so they are safe and in compliance," he said in a press briefing following the release of the enforcement statistics. "Effective enforcement means we change that workplace" to reduce injuries, illnesses and the risk of fatalities.

Henshaw defended OSHA's record of conducting 1,900 ergonomics inspections to produce only16 General Duty Clause (5a1) ergonomics citations in 2004. "We're not going to set a [citation] quota. They decide what they decide based on their training," he explained. "The 16 is what they found and I'm happy with that."

The OSHA chief conceded that 5a1 citations are harder to issue than violations of a specific standard, an argument often advanced by proponents of an ergonomics standard. Repetitive motion injuries are the largest single category of workplace injury and illness.

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