Labor secretary: OSHA jobsite inspections likely to increase

Dive Brief:

  • U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta told a House Appropriations subcommittee last week that as soon as a new crop of OSHA agents completes training, he expects jobsite inspections to increase.
  • In a written statement to the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Acosta said OSHA hired 76 new inspectors in the 2018 fiscal year and that it would be anywhere from a year to three years before they will be ready to conduct field inspections on their own. Even so, he told subcommittee members that OSHA had conducted 32,000 inspections each year in 2017 and 2018, an increase from 2016 figures.
  • President Donald Trump, he said, is requesting $557 million for OSHA in his Fiscal Year 2020 budget request, an increase from last year, which would pay for additional staff, including 30 additional compliance officers and five more whistleblower investigators.

Dive Insight:

Acosta also told subcommittee members that he was able to take on new OSHA inspectors early in the Trump administration by lifting the White House hiring freeze at the agency.

When Trump first took office, the new administration stopped what had become known as OSHA’s “shaming press release” policy. These aggressive news bulletins took construction employers to task publicly, using harsh language and often accusing them of not caring about the safety and health of their employees.

Instead, Trump’s OSHA sent out statements encouraging contractors to seek the agency’s help in developing sound safety policies before it started issuing relatively tame press releases of its own.

But while the administration has avoided trying to embarrass contractors with heavy-handed remarks, the monetary penalties are as severe as ever.

In the first year of the Trump administration, OSHA levied fines in excess of $1 million against two companies. The agency proposed more than $1.5 million in penalties for roofer Great White Construction in Jacksonville, Florida, after inspectors cited the company repeatedly for fall protection violations. OSHA also enrolled the company in its Severe Violator Program, which subjects companies to increased monitoring.

OSHA proposed another $1.5 million penalty in 2017 for Atlantic Drain Service in Boston. Two Atlantic employees were killed in late 2016 after a trench collapsed on them. After the incident, a fire hydrant supply line broke and flooded the space with water before the workers could escape. The agency also cited Atlantic for 18 safety violations related to the incident.

Author: Kim Slowey