Hawaii’s occupational safety and health program is so deficient that it may be taken over by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, while California, Minnesota and other states have enacted policies that exceed federal standards, according to a new report.
The report concludes a year-long OSHA evaluation of state-run occupational safety and health programs under its jurisdiction. The reviews were initiated after a 2009 OSHA investigation into Nevada’s program revealed minimal or no enforcement of safety code violations, despite 26 workplace fatalities in one 18-month period.
The Nevada study turned up discouragement of citations for willful violations, no citations for supportable repeat violations, lack of notification of families of the deceased, lack of follow-up to monitor remedial actions, untrained investigators, disorganized and incomplete case files, and a host of other examples of laxness and leniency.
Positives and Deficiencies
The new series of Enhanced Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation reports provide detailed findings and recommendations on the operations of state-run OSHA programs in 25 states and territories.
“Our goal is to identify problems in state-run programs before they result in serious injuries or fatalities,” said OSHA administrator David Michaels.
“While we found many positives in the state programs, we also found deficiencies including concerns about identification of hazards, proper classification of violations, proposed penalty levels, and failure to follow up on violations to ensure that workplace safety and health problems are corrected.”
Hawaii: ‘Performance Problems’
The review of Hawaii’s program revealed “significant performance problems” due to severe state budget and staffing cuts that left the state agency unable to perform inspections.
Among the lapses singled out was inadequate inspection coverage for contractors working on military installations. In FY 2009, HIOSH conducted five un-programmed inspections at two military bases. During the past five fiscal years, HIOSH has not opened any inspections at 14 of the 23 known military bases, despite the need for increased enforcement due to greater construction activity at these bases.
OSHA has offered to provide supplemental enforcement assistance until the state can address its problems. However, it added, if Hawaii “is unable to present a reasonable strategy for expeditiously improving its worker safety and health oversight, consideration will be given to the state’s current authority to operate its own program independently and could result in a federal takeover.”
Occupational Safety Leaders
The review also identified areas where states have adopted standards and procedures exceeding federal OSHA requirements. These include:
• Injury and illness prevention programs in California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota and other states;
• Adoption of a cranes and derricks rule prior to OSHA’s in North Carolina, Washington and Maryland; and
• Oregon’s requirement that employers abate serious workplace violations during the contest period, a legal tool under consideration in Congress but still lacking in federal OSHA.
Questioning Federal Oversight
While budget constraints fueled the states’ problems, Michaels added that they “may also be the result of less intensive federal oversight in recent years.”
OSHA itself has been criticized as insufficiently rigorous in enforcement and legislation is being considered to overhaul the agency. Just last month, Michaels was forced to defend findings by the General Accounting Office that OSHA had not adequately protected whistleblowers from employer retaliation, as required by its own standards.
That report triggered "a top-to-bottom review of OSHA's whistleblower protection program,” said Michaels.
As for the current evaluations, states will have 30 days to provide a formal response, including a detailed corrective action plan for addressing findings and recommendations. Each state’s formal response will be public information and available online as soon as it is received.
Michaels said OSHA would “provide assistance in the implementation of corrective actions and will work closely with state officials to review progress” to “improve state operations and provide more consistent protection” for workers.
The EFAME report and appendices for each of the 25 states, as well as each state’s comment and fiscal year 2009 self-evaluation report, are available at http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/efame/index.html.
The 25 states and territories evaluated are Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
No reports are being issued on the Nevada and Illinois state plans; the Illinois state plan was not approved until September 2009, and Nevada was evaluated last year. The status of each state’s efforts to improve its plans will be reflected in the fiscal year 2010 Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation report expected in 2011.