Survey Finds OSHA Access to Audits Harmful

April 26, 1999
It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

The Occuational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) unlimited access to occupational safety and health audits results in many companies issuing vague reports and limiting their circulation, according to a survey by Organization Resources Counselors Inc. (ORC).

In March, ORC surveyed 150 large member firms to assess the impact of OSHA's enforcement policy which allows compliance officers to demand company voluntary audits. Forty-one companies responded.

ORC said for audits to work as intended, the results must be "blunt and critical," widely circulated and discussed with all affected individuals, and retained and available until the findings are fully resolved.

While all the companies performed safety and health audits, over half said OSHA's policy had an impact on their company's audit practices. Said one firm: "Clearly the threat of OSHA being able to use in-house audit results against the company creates an undesirable pressure to not document serious negative findings, which in turn negatively impacts our ability to rectify the conditions."

ORC also found that half the companies perform their audits under legal privilege and nine out of 10 place limitations on the circulation and retention of the audit results. However, only 12 percent of the companies reported that an OSHA inspector or federal or state official had ever requested to see their audit results.

ORC supports restrictions on OSHA access to audits, and testified in support of the Self Audit Promotion Act of 1999, H.R. 1438, a bill by Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., which would prohibit using audit results as the basis for an OSHA citation. With this bill, said ORC: "Employers and employees could freely discuss the audit and abatement plans. Audit documents would no longer need to be destroyed but would be available for reference purposes. Safety and health professionals, not attorneys, could be responsible for conducting the audit."

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