March 23, 2023

OSHA, Inspector General Disagree on Recommended Improvements to Agency’s Process for Addressing Complaints

OSHA should improve its procedures for interviewing complainants and witnesses when conducting workplace inspections and investigations, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The report, which examined 100 randomly selected cases of OSHA inspections conducted during fiscal years 2019 and 2020, sought to determine the extent to which OSHA ensured that complaints and referrals received by the agency were adequately addressed.

According to the report, OSHA did not interview the complainant in half of the selected cases and did not obtain witness statements in 37 percent. The report notes that in 65 cases where interviews were conducted, 41 resulted in penalties or citations, while no penalties or citations were issued in five cases for which OSHA did not interview complainants or witnesses. In 11 of 30 cases where no inspection was conducted, the OSHA case files did not contain evidence to support the agency’s decision not to investigate, according to the report. And for cases that involved an inspection, the report indicates that in 10 percent, employers corrected hazardous conditions after the deadline identified by OSHA, while no documentation of abatement existed for 11 percent.

As a result of these findings, the OIG recommends that OSHA adopt a policy for mandatory interviews of complainants and witnesses, improve its documentation practices, and strengthen its procedures for verifying abatement of hazards.

In OSHA’s response, which is included as an appendix to the OIG report, the agency notes that the 100 audited cases represent less than 0.2 percent of the more than 62,500 cases the agency processed during fiscal years 2019 and 2020. OSHA contends that the auditor did not provide the agency with criteria for its selection of cases, an assertion that OIG disputes. According to OSHA, the report wrongly suggests that the agency did not issue citations in certain cases because it did not conduct interviews with witnesses or complainants, noting that “fewer interviews occur when no violation is observed simply because there is less to inquire about.” The agency also disputes the report’s characterization of OSHA’s documentation requirements; according to OSHA, documentation to support an agency decision not to investigate a workplace is required only for formal complaints.

The OIG report is available online as a PDF.