GAO: OSHA Lacks Strategy on Federal Agency Safety Program Improvement

April 26, 2006
OSHA needs to step up its strategic approach to improve the safety programs of other federal agencies, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

Requested by Senate Appropriations Committee members Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to determine the steps needed to be taken to ensure worker safety, the GAO report states that OSHA has not preformed many safety inspections at federal worksites and has not conducted annual reviews on federal agency safety programs since FY 2000.

"OSHA's oversight of federal agencies' safety programs is not as effective as it could be because the agency does not use its enforcement and compliance assistance resources in a strategic manner," the GAO report says.

The report also charged that OSHA doesn't conduct many inspections of federal worksites or have a national strategy for targeting worksites with high injury and illness rates for inspection despite it being one of OSHA's top enforcement tools. In addition, OSHA doesn't track disputed violations or report their resolutions, claims GAO, and does not utilize their compliance programs, which were designed to help agencies comply with regulations and improve safety.

Increase in Workers' Comp Costs

In the past decade, over 800 federal workers have died from work-related accidents, with 47 deaths occurring in 2004, according to GAO.

GAO conducted the study as a result of a spike in federal workers' compensation costs, which exceeded $1.5 billion in 2004, the most recent year GAO was able to collect data. The data was derived from a survey of 57 federal agencies.

The report found that eight federal agencies did not have procedures to ensure that an injured employee could receive medical attention, while 12 federal agencies did not offer programs enabling injured employees to handle light-duty work while they recuperated. In addition, several of the agencies did not demonstrate that their managers were held accountable for maintaining effective safety programs. Many agency officials also claimed that due to limited resources, they often must depend on safety officers with limited professional experience.

Recommendations for OSHA

Federal OSHA officials told GAO that they are working to start a new targeting effort but are still facing the same difficulties in using workers' compensation data to select federal worksites for inspection. A new recordkeeping rule implemented in January 2005 requiring federal agencies to begin collecting the same injury and illness data as private-sector employers should help OSHA develop its targeting program, said OSHA officials.

GAO makes the following recommendations to help OSHA better serve other federal agencies:

  • Develop a targeted inspection program for federal worksites based on the new worker injury and illness data federal agencies are required to collect by requiring that relevant summaries of that data be included in agencies' annual reports to OSHA.
  • Track violations disputed by federal agencies to their resolution and ensure that unresolved disputes are reported to the president.
  • Conduct evaluations of the largest and most hazardous federal agencies.
  • Use data submitted by federal agencies to assess the safety of their programs.

The 67-page report can be found at

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