In the wake of yesterday’s devastating article in Bloomberg Business Week about the carnage in foreign-owned auto parts facilities in the South, Confined Space has learned that OSHA has apparently stopped doing programmed (or pro-active) inspections in Southern auto parts plants.
In my summary and analysis of the Business Week article, I discussed OSHA’s Regional Emphasis Programs (REP) targeting the auto industry in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Emphasis programs provide OSHA with a legal basis to target facilities in high hazard industries or specific hazards, and send a strong message to employers that they are more likely to see an OSHA inspector.
As I wrote yesterday,
Legally, OSHA can’t just walk into any business without some kind of reason. A fatality, hospitalization, amputation, or a worker complaint can get OSHA in to a plant, but those often happen when it’s too late to prevent and injury or death. OSHA also has “programmed inspections” where OSHA can proactively inspect in a specific industry or focus on a specific hazard, if it has laid out a written justification (for example high injury or illnesses rates, local knowledge of unsafe conditions, etc.) These are called “emphasis programs,” and can either be conducted nationally or locally.
Later yesterday, I actually read the most recent “Regional Emphasis Program for Safety Hazards in Auto Parts Industry – NAICS 3363XX (Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing)” covering areas in those three states and noticed that the posted version had expired on February 4, 2017. Unless OSHA’s policy — not to conduct inspections under an Emphasis Program unless is is current and posted on OSHA’s webpage — has changed under the Trump administration, no pro-active, programmed inspections are being conducted at the current time. I asked the OSHA national and Region IV offices for confirmation that programmed inspections were still being conducted. I received no comment.
Inspections will still be conducted under the law as a result of fatalities, catastrophes (three or more hospitalizations), worker complaints or referrals. OSHA also inspects around 40% of Severe Injury Reports, a program that requires employers report to OSHA any hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye. These are called “unprogrammed inspections,” but they mostly happen after an incident has occurred.
Programmed Inspections – those that occur as a result of emphasis programs — are the only enforcement tool OSHA has that can actually prevent workers from being injured, sickened or killed in the workplace. OSHA has a number of National, Regional and Local emphasis programs covering such issues as fall hazards, silica, tree trimming, trenching and shoring, lead exposure, process safety management and many others. They have come under attack by Republicans in Congress over the past several years. Meanwhile, OSHA has also stopped issuing press releases publicizing large enforcement cases.
OSHA is a tiny agency — and will likely get smaller if White House and Republican budget plans are implemented. In order to be an effective deterrent, in order to be able to prevent injuries, illnesses and deaths before they happen, the agency needs a strong, credible enforcement program, and tools like Emphasis Programs that enable the agency to act before workers get hurt. And the agency needs to issue press releases that send out the message to employers who may seek to cut corners on safety, that OSHA is on the job and will not tolerate violations of workplace safety and health standards.
The question now is whether the Trump administration believes in prevention and believes in law and order in the workplace. Current indications are not good.