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May 02, 2022
Are you a target of OSHA's emphasis programs?

How likely will your facility or worksite be subject to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection?

The number of OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) has declined over the past decade, while the number of U.S. businesses has increased, the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently pointed out.

The number of agency CSHOs has decreased from 1,059 in 2011 to 748 in 2020, while the number of business establishments to inspect increased to nearly 8 million. With a mere 748 inspectors for 8 million workplaces, how likely are you to see an OSHA inspector?

One way OSHA focuses its limited enforcement resources is through National, Regional, and Local Emphasis Programs. We recently explored OSHA National Emphasis Programs (NEPs), which now also include a new NEP for outdoor and indoor heat-related hazards.

Most emphasis programs have an ongoing outreach effort in addition to inspection and enforcement. Some program directives may specify an initial outreach period, typically 90 days, before inspection and enforcement begin.

Regional Emphasis Programs (REPs) are administered by all area offices in a region, while Local Emphasis Programs (LEPs) are run out of a single office or handful of area offices.

Each OSHA region has anywhere from a handful to a dozen or more LEPs and REPs. Some are unique to a region’s economy—the floating seafood processors LEP runs out of OSHA’s Anchorage area office, for example. OSHA’s Region 5 just added a food manufacturing LEP out of OSHA’s Wisconsin area offices, and enforcement begins May 17 for the Region 8 (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) REP for silica exposure hazards in the cut stone and stone products industry.

Nearly every OSHA region has a noise hazard or noise-induced hearing loss emphasis program, as well as construction, crane, and/or fall hazard emphasis programs. Many also have a powered industrial truck LEP or REP.

Sometimes an REP can offer a template for a later NEP. For example, the new NEP for outdoor and indoor heat hazards is very similar to the heat illness REP in Region 6 (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas).

Noise emphasis programs

There are noise emphasis programs in Region 1 (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont), Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), Region 3 (Delaware; Maryland; Pennsylvania; Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and West Virginia), Region 4 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee), Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin), Region 6, Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska), and Region 8.

Each local or regional noise hazard emphasis program typically has a list of manufacturing industries in the area or region that OSHA area offices use for inspection site selection. Establishments where OSHA recently performed a health inspection usually are removed from the site selection list.

During an inspection, CSHOs review the OSHA 300 injury and illness log for any standard threshold shifts in hearing, then conduct sound level meter readings. Inspectors typically monitor noise levels over a full work shift.

Inspections under the Region 1 LEP are focused on noise exposures, but inspections in the Region 2 REP are comprehensive occupational health inspections. Inspection procedures for the Region 3 REP also include a review of employers’ hearing conservation program. The Region 4 noise REP covers nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing along with other industries, so inspection procedures include a check for respirable crystalline silica exposures, and the Region 7 REP covers construction worksites, as well as manufacturing facilities.

Region 9 (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands) and Region 10 (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) do not currently have noise hazard emphasis programs.

Falls in construction, nonconstruction

Falls are the leading cause of death in construction, and OSHA’s construction industry fall protection standard is the agency’s most frequently cited standard year after year. There are REPs for falls in construction in Region 2, Region 3, Region 4, Region 5, Region 6, Region 7, Region 8, and Region 1o.

The Region 5 and 6 REPs also include nonconstruction sites or facilities. Nonconstruction inspections in Region 5 only are initiated when the agency is informed by another party of fall or ladder hazards, while Region 6 nonconstruction inspections are initiated for “plain view” fall hazards.

CSHOs in Region 5 may contact supervisors to report fall hazards in plain view they observe during their travels. Area office supervisors will then determine if the site has been inspected in the last 30 days. CSHOs are permitted to inspect sites that have not been inspected in the last 30 days, but inspections of sites inspected within the past 30 days are initiated only in cases of imminent danger.

Inspections involve a CSHO’s walk-around at a worksite to observe whether workers are working at height without fall protection but may be expanded to include other observable hazards.

The Region 7 REP also includes the inspection of scaffolds and potential electrocution from overhead power lines. Inspections under the Region 10 REP also include checks for other construction hazards such as electrical, caught-in/struck-by, and trenching hazards.       

There also are emphasis programs for specific types or aspects of construction, such as:

Powered industrial trucks

OSHA’s powered industrial trucks standard (29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) §1910.178) is another of the agency’s most frequently cited standards. OSHA inspectors cited 1,420 violations in fiscal year 2021.

There are powered industrial truck emphasis programs in Region 1, Region 4, Region 5, Region 7, and Region 10. All REPs cover powered industrial truck use in general industry. Others also include inspections in agricultural, construction, and maritime industries. Several regional directives include evaluation procedures or an inspection checklist.

Inspection procedures include:

  • Determining the types of powered industrial trucks in use at the facility or site;
  • Determining which employees are designated to operate them and operators’ training and experience;
  • Inspecting powered industrial trucks for potential equipment defects or hazards;
  • Observing powered industrial truck operations and handling;
  • Interviewing operators to discuss training, evaluations, incidents and accidents, handling of defective trucks, and repairs; and
  • Interviewing employers or trainers to discuss policies and procedures, training programs, frequency of training, determination of competency when hiring experienced operators, evaluation of operators, maintenance and servicing of trucks, knowledge of the owner’s manual, and removal and return of trucks to service.

Checklist items include whether industrial trucks meet industry design standards; supervisors’ awareness of equipment designations; operators’ knowledge of powered industrial truck use; fuel handling and storage; changing and charging batteries; proper bridge plates and dockboards; operator training; proper traveling, loading, and operation; and maintenance.

Heat emphasis programs

OSHA’s new indoor and outdoor heat-related hazards NEP is similar to the Region 6 heat illness REP, but the REP focuses only on outdoor workers. The NEP targets industries in the agricultural, construction, and manufacturing sectors, as well as automobile dealerships, postal service, and freight and rail transportation. Certain small farming operations are exempted.

Under the NEP, area offices initiate workplace inspections when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or an advisory for a local area. Agency CSHOs also have been instructed to be vigilant, during their travel to jobsites, in conducting on-the-spot compliance assistance or even making self-referral inspections of outdoor work environments in plain view.

During a heat-related inspection, agency inspectors will:

  • Review employers’ OSHA 300 injury and illness logs and 301 incident reports for entries indicating heat-related illnesses.
  • Review any records of heat-related emergency room visits and/or ambulance transport without hospitalization. Such record review may require the use of a Medical Access Order.
  • Determine if the employer has a heat illness and injury program.
  • Interview workers on-site, including both new employees and any employees who have recently returned to work, for symptoms of dehydration, dizziness, fainting, headache, or other conditions that may indicate heat-related illnesses.

Inspections will evaluate an employer’s heat illness and injury prevention program, examining employee training on heat illness signs, prevention, and the importance of hydration; how employees are instructed to report signs and symptoms; and procedures for first aid and contacting emergency personnel.

The key elements of a heat illness and injury prevention program that CSHOs are looking for include:

  • Heat-acclimatization periods for new and returning workers;
  • Methods of monitoring ambient temperatures and levels of work exertion at a facility or jobsite;
  • Unlimited quantities of cool water that is easily accessible to all employees;
  • Scheduled rest breaks, with access to shaded areas and additional required breaks for hydration; and
  • Administrative controls like earlier start times and employee or job rotation used to limit heat exposures and a “buddy” system of worker observation on hot days.

Inspections under the REP are initiated on days when the weather service’s heat index is forecast to exceed 80 degrees, but the REP also allows for CSHO self-referrals, like the NEP. Region 6 inspectors check for a number of heat-related illness precautions at a worksite, including employee training on the hazards of hot temperatures; the availability on-site of drinking water and shade or a climate-controlled (air-conditioned) area for rest breaks; a heat-acclimatization protocol to protect vulnerable new workers and those who have just returned from an extended absence; and the provision of first aid or prompt medical attention if a heat-related illness occurs.

The heat hazard NEP and rulemaking to create the first federal heat illness prevention standard are part of a multi-agency initiative to address the impacts of climate change like excessive heat. The federal effort was unveiled on September 20, 2021, at the White House.

Depending on your industry and its inherent worker hazards, you may find your company is selected for OSHA inspection under an NEP, an REP, or an LEP. The OSHA directive for an emphasis program can reveal the procedures a CSHO will likely follow during an inspection walk-around.

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