OSHA Reports Find State Safety Agencies’ Enforcement Efforts Lacking

Tuesday October 4th, 2016

OSHAEvery U.S. state chooses its own path when it comes to enforcing the safety of employees in its public and private workplaces: It can follow the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rules, or it can write its own set of rules, split the costs with OSHA, and police its employers on its own.

For states that choose the independent path, there are two conditions.

  • Condition one: The state’s enforcement plan has to be at least as stringent about safety as the federal OSHA plan.
  • Condition two: The state has to subject itself to OSHA review to ensure that they’re fulfilling condition one.

According to the latest reviews from OSHA, the 21 so-called “state plan states” have some catching up to do. The agency’s Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) annual reports released in August found that in fiscal 2015, only six of the 21 states exceeded their goals for conducting health inspections, and only seven beat their safety inspections targets.

Inspections in state plan states are also yielding fewer citations and lower fines than in federal plan states. In Indiana and Nevada, for example, more than half of all inspections ended without a citation being filed. Another 11 states failed to measure up to OSHA, which reported that 28.5 percent of its inspections failed to result in a citation.

The federal OSHA average fine for what’s known as a “serious violation” was $2,003 in fiscal 2015. But only three states (California, Kentucky, and Wyoming) had average fines that were higher. Ten states, meanwhile, had average serious violation fines of less than $1,000.

Ask one of these states for a reason for this relative lack of robust enforcement, and they might point right back at the organization auditing them: OSHA. In response to the FAME reports, many state officials have told OSHA that federal financial support—which was supposed to fund half their budget—has been drying up in recent years, leaving them less money with which to hire inspectors. One state told OSHA that federal funding increases over the past decade have failed to keep with inflation.

OSHA’s language in the reports, on the other hand, often focused on execution. It urged many states to more accurately identify and investigate high-hazard workplaces, to better their chances of improving safety and exposing violations.

The 21 state plan states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming. Puerto Rico also has its own plan. In addition, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have state plans for their government workplaces but follow OSHA for their private-industry workplaces.