The Department of Labor Office of Inspector General recently presented its Semiannual Report to Congress, with the intention of highlighting the DOL OIG's most significant activities and accomplishments over the course of the 6-month period ending Sept. 30, 2018.
Released on Nov. 30, 2018, this marks the 80th such Semiannual Report, delivered 40 years after the Inspector General Act first established OIG in 1978.
Notably, the report expressed concerns regarding the abilities of both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration to compel employers to report occupational fatalities and certain injuries in a timely manner.
During its six-month study, OIG determined OSHA "did not have controls in place to ensure that it had complete information on the number of work-related fatalities and severe injuries." The report even cites an estimation from OSHA's former assistant secretary, who believed that as many as 50 percent or more of severe injuries went unreported during the course of the agency's review period.
The Semiannual Report noted that in 2015, OSHA revised its regulations requiring employers to report certain work-related injuries and all fatalities within set periods of time, while also providing training and online resources to inform stakeholders about the changes in the program. Yet OIG found that such efforts "lacked sufficient guidance on how to detect and prevent underreporting, as well as how to address inconsistencies in issuing citations for late reporting."
OIG also blamed "unclear guidance and poorly documented case files" for the limited assurance employers provided to OSHA that they have properly minimized workplace hazards.
The Semiannual Report found a similar underreporting of injuries and illnesses in the mining industry. OIG provided a similar diagnosis to MSHA, reporting that the agency "lacks a consistent approach to logging, assessing and responding to complaints of hazardous mine conditions."
OIG also expressed concern that mine operators' under-reporting of occupational injuries and illnesses has handicapped MSHA's ability to focus its efforts on the most dangerous mines. OIG also tasked MSHA with developing new strategies to combat the increasing prevalence of black lung disease in Appalachian mining communities. MSHA was also criticized for failing to provide sufficient oversight to coal mine operators' emergency response plans.
This new Semiannual Report echoes the findings of another OIG report released earlier in November. The 2018 Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing the U.S. Department of Labor Report identified the same challenge, concluding that "without reliable data regarding workplace injuries, OSHA and MSHA lack the information needed to effectively focus inspection and compliance efforts on the most hazardous workplaces."
However, that report also included OSHA's contention that the agency has made some progress on the issue, using a combination of enforcement, outreach and compliance assistance efforts to encourage employers to comply with reporting requirements.
In both reports, OIG called on Congress amend the language of the Mine Safety and Health Act to clarify MSHA's authority to order the closure of mines.
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