NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

GAO Report Criticizes OSHA Visits to Small Businesses

October 30, 2001

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration operates a consultation program which allows small companies to request an OSHA visit to look for workplace hazards without fear of being cited for violations as a result of the visit. The idea is to boost voluntary compliance with safety regulations.

The program's funding rose 50 percent between fiscal 1996 and fiscal 2001, to $48.8 million -- equal to about 11 percent of the agency's budget. But the General Accounting Office has issued a report critical of the program.

  • It found that even as funding was increasing, the program in a dozen states made fewer visits and identified fewer workplace hazards.
  • Nationwide, the number of consultation visits rose 2 percent to 26,418 and the number of hazards identified fell 9 percent to 171,167.
  • Moreover, the GAO said OSHA can't actually show that the consultation program works in reducing job-related injuries and illnesses -- because it doesn't collect follow-up data after its visits to determine whether its advice lowered injuries and illnesses.
  • Various state agencies or universities actually run the program -- with OSHA typically providing 90 percent of the funding and states contributing 10 percent.

Small companies frequently request a visit when they have heard -- often through industry associations -- that they might face a more onerous OSHA inspection.

Source: Jeff Bailey, "GAO Criticizes OSHA's Program for Small Business," Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2001; "OSHA Should Strengthen the Management of Its Consultation Program," GAO-02-60, October 2001, General Accounting Office.

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