OSHA Inspections Drop
To Record Lows - Again!
UE News, January 1997
For the second year in a row, the number of federal OSHA inspections and
the number of violations cited plummeted to record lows, according to federal OSHA data
In fiscal year 1996 (Oct. 1, 1995 to Sept. 30, 1996), the number of
federal OSHA inspections fell to 24,024, down 17.5 percent from the previous record low in
fiscal year 1995. Before last year, the lowest number of inspections conducted by OSHA was
in 1972, the first year of OSHA operations.
Even more dramatic was the sharp drop in violations cited by OSHA
inspectors. Nationwide, they cited only 55,093 violations in 1996, a drop of 39 percent
from the record low number of 90,555 violations cited in 1995. The number of willful
violations they cited fell by 14 percent in 1996, and the number of serious violations by
And of course, with inspections and violations down, penalties for
employers also dropped. Federal OSHA assessed $66.8 million in fines for violations cited
in 1996, a drop of 23.4 percent from the $87.2 million assessed in 1995. This was not a
record low, but only the lowest value since 1990.
As a result of the sharp drop in OSHA enforcement activity in 1995, the
two-year period of 1995 and 1996 represents the most drastic curtailment of federal OSHA
enforcement in its 25-history. Since the Gingrich Republican Congress was elected in
November 1994, OSHAs record showed the following declines:
Percent Drop FY 1994-1996
|No. of Inspections
AN ABYSMAL RECORD
This is an abysmal enforcement record. For years, Labor Secretary Robert
Reich has emphasized the importance of OSHA having a "credible" enforcement
capability. OSHAs enforcement record for the last two years was not
"credible," it was a cave-in to corporations.
In an interview published in December, OSHA Dir. Joseph Dear said,
"The idea of enforcement is to impose serious consequences for serious
violations." The deeds dont fit his words. Citations for serious violations
fell by 65 percent in the last two years. For the remaining serious violations, fines went
up from $822 per violation to $928 in 1996, a mere 13 percent increase. In real dollars
(that is, taking inflation into account), this amounts to a six percent increase in the
fine per serious violation! Serious consequences for serious violations? Whos OSHA
As 1997 begins, both Reich and Dear are gone from the federal government.
(Both resigned in December.) President Clinton has appointed Alexis Herman to replace
Reich as Labor Secretary, and the search is on for a replacement to Dear, who returned to
a post in the state of Washington. (Gregory Watchman, formerly a deputy assistant Labor
Secretary for OSHA, has been named acting administrator.) Labor unions and our allies will
obviously campaign strenuously for an OSHA director who will protect the agency from its
Congressional enemies and rebuild its enforcement efforts.
But as pointed out in this column before, OSHAs toothless
enforcement policies and its emphasis on cooperation with management comes from the top.
So UE members can harbor few illusions about the immediate likelihood for success in
What we can do is what we have always strived to do focus our main
attention at our place of greatest strength, on the shop floor in our locals. Make real
changes in our working conditions by our own efforts, and in alliance with our closest
allies, other working men and women. Dont look to OSHA or any other agency to bail
us out. And when our efforts do succeed, you can be sure that Washington will hear the
rumble. Suddenly the President, whoever he or she is, will decide to get OSHA "back
on track" again and defend the rights of working people.
We need to make the ground rumble a bit under our feet. When it does, be
assured the President and corporate America will hear us and respond.