The pandemic has resulted in an increase of workplace safety complaints to OSHA—especially from people working in industries where the risk of infection is high—but the pandemic meanwhile has reduced the agency’s ability to conduct on-site investigations, an IG audit has said.
It said that over February-October 2020 OSHA received more than 11,000 virus-related complaints—many from healthcare, meat processing, transportation, and other essential industries—but has conducted inspections in only about one-tenth of those.
Including both those and other types of workplace safety complaints, the total during that period was some 23,400 vs. 20,400 in the same period a year before, while the total number of inspections fell from about 26,200 to 13,000 with most of them being done remotely.
“As a result, there is an increased risk that OSHA is not providing the level of protection that workers need at various job sites . . . With most OSHA inspections done remotely during the pandemic, workplace hazards may go unidentified and unabated longer, leaving employees vulnerable,” it said.
It said that while OSHA has issued guidance to enhance safety provisions during the pandemic, guidance is not enforceable like rules or standards would be, and OSHA has not issued an emergency temporary standard during the pandemic for airborne infectious diseases that may better protect employees’ health and safety at worksites.
The report said that management agreed with its recommendations, noting that under an order President Biden issued soon after taking office, “the agency is already working to launch a national program to focus OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest number of workers at serious risk.”