Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General issued a report criticizing the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report was prompted by complaints that OSHA has failed to keep pace with the flood of coronavirus-related employee complaints. While the number of complaints to OSHA has increased 15% during the pandemic, on-site OSHA inspections responding to these complaints has dropped by 50% due to pandemic-related restrictions.
The inspector general noted that remote inspections often fail to uncover safety and health issues or prompt employers to abate hazards. DOL compared this drop in inspection activity to state OSHA plans, which overall have performed a significantly higher number of workplace inspections. In addition to the observations regarding inspection rates, the report also criticizes federal OSHA for the lack of a specific COVID-19 safety standard. The inspector general states that this has interfered with the agency’s ability to cite employers and protect employees.
The report indicates that OSHA has agreed to the inspector general’s recommendations, including the issuance of a COVID-19 temporary emergency standard (as previously discussed in EmployNews). This information is another clear signal that OSHA is preparing to significantly increase its COVID-19 enforcement efforts and regulatory authority to cite employers.