As of Oct. 1, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun using a new system for weighing and measuring its enforcement priorities that now includes added emphases depending on the type of hazard inspected and whether the actions were taken in pursuit of agency enforcement initiatives.
“Because weight will now be given to these areas, employers should be prepared for inspections related to high hazards and specific OSHA enforcement initiatives,” warn attorneys Jayni Lanham, Heidi Knight and Mark Duvall of the law firm of Beveridge & Diamond PC.
In its Sept. 27 announcement of the changes, OSHA said that it “will encourage the appropriate allocation of resources to support OSHA’s balanced approach of promoting safe and healthy workplaces, and continue to develop and support a management system that focuses enforcement activities on critical and strategic areas where the agency’s efforts can have the most impact.”
Under the new system, OSHA stressed that it will be looking at more than just the time it takes to complete an inspection when evaluating its total enforcement activity for the year, which it measures in what it calls “Enforcement Units.”
Years ago, OSHA began measuring its enforcement activity by simply tallying up the total number of inspections completed each fiscal year. That approach changed in 2015 when the agency created its Enforcement Weighting System (EWS) to measure enforcement activity and no longer looked primarily at the total number of inspections.
In a 2015 memorandum to regional administrators, then-OSHA chief David Michaels announced implementation of a new system to “underscore the importance of the resource-intensive enforcement activity that is focused on some of the most hazardous workplace issues, such as ergonomics, heat, chemical exposures, workplace violence and process safety management.”
To do so, OSHA began measuring inspection activity by assigning varying Enforcement Units (EUs) to different types of inspections and measured its aggregate enforcement efforts by tallying those EUs. The severity and widespread nature of the charges that were brought against employers also were factors.
On the low end of the spectrum, non-formal complaint investigations and rapid response investigations would be assigned one-ninth EUs and on the high end of the spectrum, failing process safety management inspections would be assigned seven EUs and actions involving significant cases would be assigned eight EUs.
Under the new system adopted for fiscal year 2020, OSHA will continue to weight inspections but will consider factors, divided into five groupings:
● Group A includes criminal cases and significant cases and is assigned the highest number of EUs—seven.
● Group B includes fatalities, catastrophes and process safety management inspections and is assigned five EUs.
● Group C includes programmed inspections involving OSHA’s “focus four” high-priority hazards (such as those involving caught-in, electrical, fall and struck-by hazards) and is assigned three EUs.
● Group D includes programmed inspections under a number of emphasis programs (for example, amputation, combustible dust, workplace violence and heat hazards, Site-Specific Targeting, among others), and is assigned two EUs.
● All other inspections are encompassed by Group E and assigned one EU.
OSHA explained that it intends for these weighting system changes to “support a management system that focuses enforcement activities on critical and strategic areas where the agency’s efforts can have the most impact.”
“In light of this announcement, employers should expect OSHA’s inspection activity to reflect a renewed emphasis on high-hazard areas and OSHA’s enforcement initiatives,” according to the Beveridge & Diamond lawyers. “Employers should review their plans for preparing for and managing an OSHA inspection or develop a plan if one is not in place.”
Pre-planning for an OSHA inspection is a must. Executives responsible for safety management should work closely with key managers and supervisors in their workplaces to make sure everyone knows their role when OSHA inspectors show up at the door.