WASHINGTON – A report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Dept. of Labor stated that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to “leverage opportunities for collaboration with external agencies” at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
OIG noted that mission-critical employees continued to report to their worksites after the first COVID-19 outbreak, including meat processing plants. Other industries looked at by the report included nursing homes, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, department stores and correctional institutions.
“From the onset of the pandemic, OSHA received a sudden influx of complaints,” the report stated. “However, in order to reduce person-to-person contact for its own personnel, the agency decreased the number of its inspections, particularly on-site inspections. Despite receiving 15% more complaints in 2020 than in 2019, OSHA conducted 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 external federal agencies to determine if those agencies were regularly referring to potential hazards.
The OIG report also said OSHA did not gauge related outreach and training needs and did not have up-to-date agreements with federal counterparts that would enable OSHA to capitalize on collaborative efforts.
“By not identifying federal partners in a position to assist during a large-scale safety and health crisis and not having or creating collaborative agreements with those partners, OSHA lost a valuable opportunity to better protect US workers,” the report said.
Under its recommendations, OIG said it wanted OSHA to establish interagency collaboration by devising a plan containing training and outreach and using memoranda of understanding or other written agreements.
The full OIG investigation is available here.