Inspections More Likely With 'Labor Unrest,' Says GAO

Sept. 19, 2000
Companies experiencing labor unrest are about 6.5 times more\r\nlikely to be inspected by OSHA than those that are not, according to a General Accounting Office report.

Companies experiencing labor unrest are about 6.5 times more likely to be inspected by OSHA than those not experiencing labor unrest, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report.

The report, "Worker Protection: OSHA Inspections at Establishments Experiencing Labor Unrest," was done at the request of Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., chairman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

The study was conducted between June 1999 and June 2000. It used data compiled by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the National Labor Relations Board to identify approximately 22,000 establishments with some kind of labor unrest.

According to the report, about 68 percent of the approximately 1,900 OSHA inspections conducted each year at establishments experiencing labor unrest resulted from complaints, fatalities or catastrophes.

In contrast, only about 27 percent of the approximately 100,000 total inspections OSHA conducted each year resulted from complaints, fatalities or catastrophes.

While it did not appear that unionized companies were in general more likely to receive a complaint-based inspection than non-unionized companies, the analysis did find that, among companies experiencing labor unrest, there were a higher proportion of complaint-based inspections at unionized companies than non-unionized, said GAO.

The report pointed out that by law OSHA must perform inspections, regardless of whether labor unrest exists, if valid complaints, fatalities or catastrophes occur.

The term "labor unrest" is commonly used to indicate some type of dissatisfaction among workers, but there is no consensus about the ways in which labor unrest develops.

"However, it is clear that there is some relationship between labor unrest and employees'' dissatisfaction with wages and working conditions," wrote GAO.

OSHA: Process Not Being Abused

"We have no reason to believe that OSHA''s complaint process is being abused," OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said in a letter responding to the GAO report.

Jeffress said the agency believes there are shortcomings in the study''s methodology that "undermine the significance of its major conclusion and limit its usefulness."

In particular, Jeffress said that the study significantly inflates the correlation between ''unrest'' and the likelihood that an establishment will have an inspection.

"The great majority of inspections are based on targeting programs that are unaffected by the existence of labor unrest and, as GAO recognizes, are not influenced by employee complaints," noted Jeffress.

He went on to say that the most powerful determinants of the likelihood of inspection are the employers'' size and industry, not whether they are experiencing labor unrest.

He also emphasized that GAO found that a business with labor unrest was 2.5 times more likely than the average establishment to receive an inspection "based on complaint."

Jeffress said this was more indicative of the influence of labor unrest on complaints to OSHA than the "6.5 times higher" figure that GAO chose to highlight. He pointed out that the higher figure was based on a comparison that included inspections that had nothing to do with worker complaints.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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