OSHA inspectors finished 32,396 inspections in FY 17. That’s up 1.4% from 2016 when there were the fewest inspections conducted in 20 years. Both are still well below peak years of the Obama administration, when the agency conducted more than 40,600 inspections in both fiscal 2011 and 2012.
One reason may be OSHA’s move during the Obama era from simply counting the number of inspections to a data-driven system that prioritized the type of inspections that had the most impact, in terms of preventing fatalities, severe injuries, and work illnesses.
Agency officials have linked the decline in inspections to the agency’s budget—$552.8 million for 2017—not keeping pace with inflation, resulting in staff cutbacks.
About 45 percent of this year’s inspections were “programmed,” resulting from efforts to emphasize a particular hazard, like breathable silica. The remaining inspections were “unprogrammed,” which are often short-notice responses to industrial or construction accidents. The number of programmed inspections for fiscal 2017 reverses a two-year downward trend.
Despite an increase in inspections, the number of appeals didn’t see the same growth. For fiscal 2017, the commission received 2,168 appeals, compared to 2,183 in fiscal 2016.
There was speculation that OSHA’s 78% increase of maximum fine levels that took effect in August 2016 would lead to more citation appeals. However, unless high fines are involved, employers often appeal cases because they don’t want a serious, willful, or repeat violation on their record because of potential contract losses or ballooning fines based on repeat offenses.