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Which worksites should OSHA inspect?

October 30, 2015

With limited resources, OSHA needs to choose its inspection sites wisely. So where should it go?

An Oct. 30 gathering known as Safety Datapalooza brought together private innovators and public agencies to discuss how to use data to advance safety. During the event, OSHA administrator David Michaels addressed the challenges his small agency faces: With more than 130 million workers to cover and only about 2,000 inspectors, OSHA can’t be everywhere at once. This leaves the agency trying to balance where to send its compliance officers to have the greatest impact.

“Is it worth inspecting places where we've already seen that a worker’s been very badly hurt?” Michaels asked. “Or are we better off inspecting a place where a worker hasn’t been hurt yet?”

This isn’t a hypothetical – OSHA is grappling with this exact question right now.

On one hand, a worksite that has experienced a serious injury may have several hazards in need of correcting. OSHA could identify those hazards for the employer and force a positive change.

However, that type of approach is fairly reactive. Instead, OSHA could visit workplaces where no injury has occurred and identify hazards to prevent a future incident.

Michaels cited research indicating that workplaces inspected by OSHA see a 25 percent reduction in injury rates over a four-year period. So no matter where the agency goes, its inspection will very likely have a positive impact on the worksite. But that still leaves the question: Which worksite to visit, the one where the injury occurred or the one without the injury?

Data may ultimately solve this question, but I’m interested in learning what you think. Let me know in the comments below.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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