In the good old days, OSHA inspections primarily occurred for one of four reasons:
- Employee Complaints
- Severe Accidents
- Observed OSHA Violations (e.g.: inspector observes an issue on a construction site)
- Random Inspection (a statistical likelihood once every 200 years)
This approach often led to companies with excellent safety programs inspected because of an accident that was “bad luck” or due to a disgruntled employee. OSHA discovered during the course of many of these inspections that there was not an inherent safety problem with the employer, but issued fines
anyway on various minor technical issues that were not the main causes of accidents and which exist at nearly every company.
Over time OSHA was criticized for penalizing good employers and not expending their resources on more dangerous employers who were “flying under the radar” simply due to their luck in avoiding random inspections. Additionally, this reactive system didn’t yield the desired result of an overall
reduction in the number of workplace accidents and injuries.
Subsequently, OSHA needed a new approach to achieve their goals. Their solution: Proactively target and inspect the country’s most dangerous employers.
The change from a “reactive” to a “proactive” philosophy represented a significant and important departure from the way they have historically conducted business. To identify the country’s most dangerous companies to work for, OSHA formed the Site-Specific Targeting (SST) Inspection
Program. Each year they produce a SST list of employers, Each year they produce a SST list of employers, commonly referred to as the “Hit List.”
OSHA utilizes statistical benchmarks to identify employers they deem “the most dangerous.” Some classes of employers such as banks, clerical operations, and construction firms were excluded from the Hit List in the past. This year, the agency is including employers with as few as 20 employees in the Hit List program.
The information is a collection of specific injury and illness data self-reported from approximately 80,000 employers. OSHA collects data from companies by using the “OSHA Work- Related Injury and Illness Data Collection Form,” which compiles information from the OSHA 300 Log of injuries and illnesses.
The benchmark OSHA uses to target companies is based on injuries resulting in days away from work, restrictions from normal job duties, or both. This is referred to as the “DART” rate. By establishing a rate, it is possible to compare safety performance of employers of all sizes.
Of the 80,000 employers surveyed, 15,000 companies reporting DART rates exceeding 2.0 are included on the OSHA Hit List (The average DART rate for all employers nationwide is 1.8). These 15,000 are considered “the most dangerous employers in the country.”
Appearing on the list means a high probability of inspection. These are among the most thorough inspections OSHA conducts and will likely involve more than one inspector who will examine traditional safety hazards as well as occupational health hazards, such as noise and/or exposure to chemicals.
Through recent changes in the way OSHA calculates penalties (fines), the dollar amount associated with each violation found are much higher than several years ago. It is not unusual for a small business to receive multiple violations resulting in total penalties of $50,000 or more following an inspection where OSHA has identified the lack of required written programs, required employee training, and violations of requirements discovered when inspecting the facility.
Failure to correct violations identified during the inspection, or future inspections that identify the same hazards, can result in “Willful Violations” that can cost as much as $70,000 per violation. In severe cases, criminal sanctions can be imposed. Employers must not take the power of the agency lightly.
Not all companies are on the list though because they are “dangerous employers.” While the statistical DART approach seems to make sense, it can penalize companies who don’t understand the reporting requirements, or small employers who may experience several serious injuries in a year causing the DART rate to quickly escalate.
Additional reasons companies may make the hit list include:
- Inadvertently record injuries not required to be reported on the OSHA 300 log
- Incorrectly under report the hours worked in a given year
- Not completing the required forms (automatic inclusion on list)
- Companies don’t know they are on the list and don’t take corrective action
Many employers assign the task of completing OSHA 300 logs to clerical personnel who may not be familiar with OSHA recordkeeping criteria. We routinely discover employers have adequate safety programs but lack recordkeeping expertise resulting in placement on the Hit List.
I offer the following advice to employers with respect to OSHA’s new Site Specific Targeting Inspection Initiative:
- Know and understand what is being recorded on your OSHA 300 logs
- Determine if your company has been targeted for inspection
- Ensure all OSHA survey forms are being completed correctly
- Inform company management about this OSHA initiative
- Carefully monitor your company’s injury rates, particularly the DART rate
- Prepare for an inspection if your company is on the list
Do not forget the underlying premise the SST initiative: Employers on the Hit List are expected to have hazards that are not being adequately identified and/or controlled. Inspections of such employers will inherently result in more violations than inspections of an employer not on the list.
Companies on the OSHA SST list should understand the reason why they made the list. If over-reporting is the issue, the fix is simple. If accidents and injuries are higher than average (or higher than your peer group) opportunities for improvement exist.
All employers would be well advised to conduct thorough safety, health, and compliance audits of their operations periodically to identify problems. A more expensive approach is to let OSHA inspect and point out deficiencies for you!
Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.