By Paul H. Burmeister

The Site-Specific Targeting Program (SST) is OSHA’s primary “programmed” inspection plan for non-construction workplaces.  The SST Program is geared to address OSHA’s goal of reducing the number of injuries and illnesses that occur at individual workplaces, by directing enforcement resources to those workplaces where the highest rate of injuries and illness have occurred.

The SST is driven by data received from the prior year’s OSHA Data Initiative Survey.  Using the data from this annual survey, and criteria that change every year, such as different industries, fluctuating thresholds of injury data (mostly average DART rates by industry), and different sized employers (this past year, lowering the threshold to workplaces with 20 or more employees from historically larger employers), OSHA puts together lists of tens of thousands of workplaces that could be subject to a programmed inspection.

The Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) recently released a report critiquing and recommending some major changes to OSHA’s SST Program.  The principle criticism was that the current SST leaves out more than a quarter of all worksites that reported high rates of injury and illness.  The OIG report also observed that 84% of workplaces on the annual SST list were not inspected, due to OSHA’s limited resources and other enforcement priorities.

Based upon its review of OSHA’s SST program, the OIG made three recommendations:

  1. Include the highest-risk worksites in the Data Initiative Survey and the SST Program Targeting Lists, including workplaces with fewer than 20 employees;
  2. Prioritize and complete inspections of the highest-risk worksites to ensure effective and efficient use of OSHA resources; and
  3. Complete the evaluation of the SST program and implement a monitoring system to evaluate efficiency and effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

OSHA partially agreed with OIG’s findings and rebutted others.  For example, OSHA stated that that it would revise its list of industries included in the Data Initiative Survey based on current Bureau of Labor Statistics injury and illness data.  OSHA also agreed to push the OSHA-approved State Plans to adopt SST targeting.

Of all the report’s findings, however, it is most disappointing that OIG would recommend, and that OSHA would entertain, the targeting of even smaller employers.  OSHA’s most recent SST Program (2011) already focused on smaller employers than OSHA had targeted historically (down to 20-employee establishments), but the OIG report recommends inspections at establishment half that size.  With the current economic environment, it is disheartening to see a deliberate plan to put even more pressure on small employers.  Should the OIG recommendations be taken up by OSHA, small employers, already feeling increased scrutiny and facing higher penalties from today’s OSHA, would be under even more pressure from OSHA in terms of inspections and data collection.