WASHINGTON — A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not “exploited opportunities to collaborate with agencies External” at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OIG noted that mission-essential employees continued to travel to their workplaces after the first outbreak of COVID-19, including meat processing plants. Other industries examined by the report included nursing homes, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, department stores and correctional facilities.
“From the start of the pandemic, OSHA received a sudden influx of complaints,” the report said. “However, in order to reduce personal contact for its own staff, the agency has reduced the number of its inspections, including on-site inspections. Although it received 15% more complaints in 2020 than in 2019, OSHA performed 50% fewer inspections. This meant leaving employees vulnerable to COVID-19 as a workplace hazard.
The report also noted that OSHA did not track or analyze inspection-related referrals made by outside federal agencies to determine whether those agencies consistently referred to potential hazards.
The OIG report also indicates that OSHA has failed to assess related awareness and training needs and has not entered into up-to-date agreements with its federal counterparts that would allow OSHA to capitalize on the collaborative efforts.
“By not identifying federal partners who can help during a large-scale safety and health crisis and by not having or creating collaborative agreements with those partners, OSHA lost a valuable opportunity to better protect American workers,” the report said.
According to its recommendations, the OIG said it wants OSHA to establish interagency collaboration by developing a plan that includes training and awareness and using memorandums of understanding or other written agreements.
The full OIG survey is available here.