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March 13, 2023
Labor OIG: OSHA inconsistent in handling complaints

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been inconsistent in addressing safety and health complaints and referrals and did not regularly enforce hazard abatement timelines, according to an audit performed for the Labor Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The Lopez Group, LLP, an independent certified public accounting firm, conducted the audit for the OIG to determine the extent to which OSHA ensures complaints and referrals are adequately addressed and in a timely manner.

In a sample of 76 complaint cases reviewed, OSHA interviewed the complainant in 38 cases, or 50 percent, The Lopez Group found. Additionally, the auditors found that OSHA did not consistently involve the complainant and/or witnesses in the investigation or inspection process, as well as that OSHA has no policy requiring compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) to interview or otherwise involve the complainant after a complaint is filed.

In a review of 30 cases in which a complaint or referral met the agency’s criteria for conducting an inspection, OSHA did not conduct an inspection in 11 instances, and agency files did not contain any clear reasoning for not conducting an inspection.

OSHA also did not regularly ensure that safety and health violations revealed in complaints and referrals were corrected in a timely manner, according to the audit.

The Lopez Group therefore concluded that OSHA lacks:

  • A methodology for determining when complainants and witnesses should be interviewed and the appropriate level of their involvement in an inspection,
  • A process for documenting supervisory reviews and decision approvals within case files, and
  • Controls to ensure the enforcement of employers' abatement deadlines.
  • The Lopez Group offered three recommendations for OSHA in the audit report:
  • Modify the agency’s Field Operations Manual (FOM) to include a policy for mandatory interviews of complainants and witnesses or documenting the rationale for a lack of interviews, and provide training for agency CSHOs on the updated requirements.
  • Update the FOM to require documented case file review and approvals by supervisors, and provide training for CSHOs to ensure complete documentation of significant case decisions and actions.
  • Establish controls and provide training in abatement certification and documentation requirements in the FOM, and create a monitoring process reviewed and approved by an agency supervisor.

Doug Parker, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, disagreed with the report’s findings and its recommendations. OSHA contended that the OIG did not provide the criteria used to select sample case files, while the OIG argued the criteria were provided in Appendix A of the report.

In response to the recommended mandatory interviews of complainants and witnesses, OSHA said that CSHOs must have the discretion to determine what interviews are necessary during an investigation. The agency also did not agree to provide training to CSHOs or to update agency policy to ensure complete documentation of significant case decisions and actions.

Regarding abatement timelines, the agency argued that the audit confused the date abatement occurred with the date of abatement documentation. For example, OSHA described a case in which an employer abated a crushing hazard but did not supply documentation to verify the abatement until 85 days after the abatement deadline.

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