How Does OSHA Prioritize Inspection Targets?

There are two general categories of OSHA inspection: unprogrammed inspections that are triggered by a complaint, a severe accident or fatality, or some other observed and reported violation; and programmed inspections, which are proactively aimed at high-hazard industries, workplaces, occupations, safety/health hazards, or some other site-specific issue.

This blog provides a quick review of OSHA’s programmed inspection activities, and how recent changes in the internal OSHA Weighting System (OWS) will impact how regional offices prioritize their work in the year ahead.

OSHA’s current inspection programs include:

National Emphasis Programs (NEPs). NEPs target specific hazards such as lead or silica, specific operations like trenching and excavation, or industries such as shipbreaking. There are currently eight NEPs.

Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs). OSHA also has over 100 Regional or Local Emphasis Programs that address workplace and industry issues that are specific to each of OSHA’s ten regional offices. LEPs are geographically focused and include issues like noise, and businesses like dairy farm operations, oil and gas operations, poultry processing, construction, grain handling, and many others.

If you operate a business that is encompassed by a NEP or LEP, OSHA follows a random selection process when determining where it will be conducting inspections each year.

Site-Specific Targeting Inspection Program (SST). SST is OSHA’s way to “proactively examine” employers with the highest rates of occupational injuries and illnesses — in comparison to the average rate for their industry. How does OSHA determine the list? It’s mathematical. Priority is determined by the “OSHA Injury and Illness Recordkeeping Form” — often referred to as Form 300 — that employers file to report injuries and illnesses. By analyzing this data each year, OSHA creates a list of employers that meet the threshold for inspection in the year ahead.

The SST program also targets a random sample of sites with lower than average rates of illness/injury, as well as non-responders — to discourage employers from not reporting to avoid inspection. March 2, 2020, is the deadline for electronically reporting your OSHA Form 300A data for the calendar year 2019. Collection will begin January 2, 2020.

The OSHA Weighting System (OWS), which is an internal tool for helping OSHA’s regional offices prioritize their inspection and enforcement resources, was revised at the end of September and became effective October 1. The new OWS replaces the system that was first implemented in 2015.

The original weighting system was based primarily on the time necessary to complete an inspection. The new guidelines include additional factors — such as being on the SST list — for prioritizing programmed enforcement activity, enforcement support functions (e.g. severe injury reporting and complaint resolution), and compliance assistance efforts.

As always, if you have any questions about how to be prepared for an OSHA inspection — especially if you are an employer in an industry that is a target of an OSHA emphasis program — feel free to contact me.

About the Author: James Laboe

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