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The findings of a recent audit show OSHA didn’t consistently ensure complaints and referrals were adequately addressed during inspections and didn’t regularly enforce hazard abatement timelines. After a complainant expressed concern, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (OIG) contracted with an independent public accounting firm to conduct an audit that sought to answer: To what extent did OSHA ensure complaints and referrals were adequately and timely addressed?

Audit procedure and findings

In fiscal years (FY) 2019 and 2020, inspections from complaints and referrals were slightly greater than 40 percent of OSHA’s total inspections. The audit reviewed 100 complaint and referral cases that were opened and closed during this time period. Of these, 76 were initiated from a complaint and 70 resulted in an inspection. The audit found OSHA interviewed the complainant just 50 percent of the time, and in all sampled cases where OSHA interviewed the complainant and/or witnesses, each person was only interviewed once.

The report notes that OSHA doesn’t have a policy requiring its inspectors to interview or otherwise involve the complainant after the complaint is filed, yet that person may have key insights to ensure alleged hazards are being addressed.

The audit also found OSHA’s files didn’t contain clear reasoning as to why it didn’t conduct an inspection for 11 out of 30 sampled cases where a complaint or referral met its criteria for conducting an inspection. Additionally, OSHA didn’t regularly ensure safety and health violations from complaints and referrals were corrected in a timely manner.

OIG’s recommendations

The OIG made three recommendations to OSHA based on its findings:

  1. Modify the Field Operations Manual (FOM) to include a policy for mandatory interviews of complainants and witnesses or document the rationale for not doing so and provide training to inspectors on the updated requirements. (Note: The FOM can be found on OSHA's website.)
  2. Update the FOM to require documented case file review and approvals by supervisors and provide training for inspectors to ensure complete documentation of significant decisions and actions.
  3. Establish controls and provide training of FOM abatement certification and documentation requirements and create a monitoring process that’s reviewed and approved by a supervisor.

OSHA’s response

While OSHA disagreed with the report’s recommendations and provided follow-up comments, the OIG didn’t revise its recommendations. OSHA said it will explore ways to improve its case file documentation to provide greater clarity on decisions it makes during the investigative and inspection processes.

Key to remember

Auditors found OSHA didn’t consistently ensure complaints and referrals were adequately addressed during inspections and didn’t regularly enforce hazard abatement timelines. The agency said it’s working to address these issues to provide greater clarity in its processes.