OSHA has not designed a method to determine that state occupational safety and health programs are at least as effective as federal OSHA in reducing injuries and illnesses, according to a report released April 6 by the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG report also points out that OSHA has not evaluated the impact of its own enforcement program in order to arrive at a minimum criterion to evaluate state programs.
Under the OSH Act, state plans are required to maintain OSH programs that are “at least as effective as” federal OSHA, and the federal agency is responsible for ensuring that state programs meet this benchmark. In 2009, OSHA made several revisions to its monitoring procedures for the 27 state OSH plans after an OSHA investigation found Nevada’s program relied on poorly trained inspectors and failed to take sufficient enforcement actions for violations of safety violations. The monitoring procedure was enhanced to include on-site reviews of inspection case files and activity metrics including inspection counts, penalty amounts, injury and fatality rate trends, Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) and recordkeeping, measures for timeliness and completion of inspections, violation classification, staffing benchmarks, and timely adoption of standards. Federal OSHA concluded in reports released in 2010 that many state OSH plans do not meet federal benchmarks for enforcement and standard setting.
The Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association objected to these conclusions, and made many of the same arguments cited in the OIG report.
The state enforcement programs were evaluated by looking at injury, illness and fatality data as well as activity-based data. The inspector general observed, however, that according to OSHA, injury, illness, and fatality data are unpredictable and may be affected by economic factors. The OIG report also rejected reliance on activity-based data, such as the number of inspections, arguing that federal OSHA has not provided the states with evidence to show the activity-based framework correlates to effectiveness.
In a memo
responding to the OIG report, OSHA Chief David Michaels agreed that outcome measures are desirable for evaluating the effectiveness of both federal and state programs. He objected, however, to the report’s dismissal of activity measures as meaningless in determining states’ effectiveness. Relying exclusively on outcome measures would, according to Michaels, be problematic.
The OIG recommended four steps OSHA should take to improve its monitoring of state OSHA programs:
- Define effectiveness
- Design measures to quantify impact
- Establish a baseline using Federal OSH programs to evaluate State Plans
- Revise monitoring processes to include assessments about whether State Plans are at least as effective as Federal OSHA programs.