GAO: OSHA needs to improve State Plan monitoring

Washington – OSHA’s current efforts are not enough to help the agency fully determine the effectiveness of its federal and state enforcement activities, concludes a new report (pdf file) from the Government Accountability Office.

Following a number of construction deaths in Nevada in 2009, OSHA took steps to strengthen its review of all State Plan programs. To evaluate those efforts, GAO conducted an audit from November 2011 to January 2013 and found that OSHA provides more frequent monitoring and consistent guidance for audits at the federal level than the state level. The lack of consistency in audit guidelines may prevent enforcement deficiencies from being identified in State Plans, increasing the risk of workplace incidents, GAO stated.

OSHA is taking steps to better assess its programs, GAO said, but the agency is focusing too much on output measures (i.e., number of violations per inspection) and not enough on outcomes (i.e., reduction in injuries and fatalities). As a result, OSHA has difficulty figuring out which enforcement activities work best and persuading State Plan states to adopt changes.

GAO recommended that OSHA incorporate outcomes into its assessment of enforcement activities and analyze audit results to identify systemic problems.

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