At the start of October 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration implemented a new inspection weighting system in an effort to help workplaces better focus their resources to reduce worker fatalities, injuries and illnesses, according to an agency press release.
The new OSHA Weighting System has been used since the Fiscal Year 2020 start and officially replaced the agency's previous program put into effect in 2015 called the Enforcement Weighting System. Under the old system, OSHA primarily weighed certain inspections based on the time taken to complete an inspection, and it certain cases, the impact of the inspection on workplace health and safety. The current OWS system will account for additional factors in an effort to improve workplace safety nationwide. The agency explained that OWS will foster the "appropriate allocation of resources" as a means of helping promote its balanced approach of safe and healthy workplaces. In particular, OSHA hopes that OWS will allow for it to create a management system that focuses enforcement activities on critical and strategic areas. To help the agency more proactively focus resources, its emphasis programs target workplaces or industries where it has been determined that the employees are "exposed to serious, uncontrolled hazards putting them at risk for injury or death," according to an OSHA white paper.
"OWS will emphasize the use of both enforcement and compliance assistance in a way that allows OSHA to take a proactive approach to workplace safety and health rather than simply reacting to workplace incidents after they have happened," the press release reads. "(OSHA) encourages employers to take a proactive approach to workplace safety and health by instituting management systems that identify and prevent hazardous conditions."
How OSHA workplace inspections will be affected by OWS
Under OWS, workplace inspections will continue to be weighted, although they will be done based on several new factors that include the "impact of the inspections and the agency's priorities" as opposed to only a time-weighted standard. In addition, the new system "underscores the importance of complex enforcement activity" that pertains to what the agency considers to be the workplaces and operations with the most hazards. The new inspection system has been tested and conducted alongside EWS activities since Fiscal Year 2017, although the agency predicts workplace compliance assistance will be required in coming years.
According to an OSHA memo, inspections are grouped into several sections based on the "complexity" of the workplace hazards, which range from "high-priority" involving criminal cases (Group A) to those with hazards among the leading causes of on-the-job fatalities (Group C), including those related to falls or entrapment ("caught-in" hazards). In Group D, for example, the new policy calls for programmed inspections that follow an established enforcement policy for hazards listed as high priority and "somewhat time intensive," like confined spaces, combustible dust and workplace violence. The weighting system also includes new enforcement initiatives that include site-specific targeting.
How your can prepare your workplace for an inspection
According to an Occupational Health and Safety Magazine article, the majority of OSHA inspections around the country yield at least one safety violation, which should prompt employers to identify as many as possible on their own and rectify them beforehand. The piece recommends several tips to help employers pass their next inspection:
- Address workplace hazards: Due to the fact that the number and overall dangerousness of workplace hazards can add more weight to OSHA inspections with the FY 2020 change, employers should focus on the "Big Four" for injuries and fatalities: falls, electrocutions and "caught-in" and "struck by" hazards, per OHS. Along with routine internal inspections and employee oversight, safety management controls and systems can further reduce the amount of risk workers face on-site.
- Comply with regulations: Even in lieu of an impending inspection, employers should always ensure that their properties, policies and procedures are in compliance with regulations pertaining to safety and communications, among other purposes. Compliance failure will always work against an employer when it comes to OSHA inspections.
- Train employees: When it comes to ensuring that all of the pre-inspection tasks are completed, an employer must be sure that the employees charged with carrying them out are capable of doing so. Safety and health programs, for example, are only effective and cost-efficient if employees know how to follow specific guidelines. Another way to prepare for OSHA inspections is through intensive recordkeeping — a practice that employees should be familiar with.
When it comes to both meeting an OSHA inspection and keeping the workplace running safely and smoothly on a daily basis, the importance of setting in place the most comprehensive of solutions cannot be stressed enough.
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