Since the early 1990s, over 50,000 U.S. workers have lost their lives in workplace accidents. Although workplace fatality and injury rates have improved significantly over the last decade, the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to strive to reduce work related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities for the country's 120 million workers. Over the past several years, OSHA has been in the spotlight, particularly when it comes to defending its role and effectiveness. Many wonder whether OSHA is adequately positioned to effectively address the safety and health hazards facing today's workers and work arrangements. Key concerns have been raised as to whether OSHA (1) is focusing its limited resources on those workplaces most likely to cause worker injury, illness, or death, (2) can show that its efforts make worksites safer, or (3) is adequately training its workforce to carry out its mission effectively. While OSHA has taken important steps towards addressing these concerns, it needs to take additional actions to make targeting efforts more efficient, performance measurement more precise, and training efforts more effective.1
The procedures that OSHA uses to target its inspections do not fully ensure that OSHA effectively identifies hazardous worksites for priority inspection. Specifically, when targeting the construction industry, OSHA relies on a database that does not adequately identify the smaller, potentially more hazardous worksites. Also, the efficiency of OSHA's efforts to target highhazard worksites across other industries through its site-specific targeting (SST) program may be limited by faulty information that caused OSHA to send inspectors to worksites that were either not hazardous or that had hazards that were outside of OSHA's control.
The procedures OSHA currently uses to target worksites in the construction industry do not provide OSHA area offices with adequate information on smaller construction worksites. OSHA relies on information from the F.W. Dodge Report database,2 provided by the University of Tennessee, to identify construction worksites for potential inspection. This database provides selected information on construction worksites. However, the start and completion dates, which are added to the database by the University of Tennessee, are often erroneous for small construction sites.
Since they have more confidence in the information the database provides on larger worksites, OSHA's area offices generally select larger construction worksites to inspect. About half of the 17 OSHA area office directors we interviewed said they do not request information on smaller construction sites through the F.W. Dodge Report process. Several local office directors told us that, when relying on the database to identify small construction worksites, they would only send inspectors to areas where there were multiple worksites in close proximity in the hope of finding at least one that would be available for inspection.