OSHA Has Not Been Inspecting Sites of Many Big Construction Contractors

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

David Weil reports that many of the nation's largest construction contractors had not been inspected in recently by OSHA.

Many of the nation's largest construction contractors have not been inspected in recent years by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA. OSHA did not inspect any work site of 486 — 24% — of the nation's 2,060 top construction contractors in 1987-93. In any of the seven years, the chance a contractor in the group would face an OSHA inspection was only about 50%.

Owners and managers who know they're likely to be inspected by OSHA may be more committed to workplace safety. Inspections aren't the only safety incentive, but they help.

The findings, reported by David Weil, Boston University, are part of a study under way for CPWR – Center for Construction Research and Training. Weil looked at OSHA inspection records for 2,060 contractors listed as the nation's largest by Engineering News-Record magazine. The chance of inspection was greater for a union contractor than a non-union contractor, Weil found. But that gap on inspection rates narrowed from 1987 to 1993. (The data include state-OSHA plans.)

For inspected sites, Weil will look at the effects of OSHA enforcement on compliance with OSHA standards.

With William Londriganof the Greater Louisville Building and Construction Trades Council, Weil has also looked at enforcement for 3,899 mid-size construction contractors in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia in 1987-93. The two have found that 2,049 — 53% — of the contractors were notChance of OSHA inspections 1993 Graph inspected by OSHA in the seven years. In the region, as in the national sample, the probability of inspection is much higher for union than non-union contractors.

"We don't inspect contractors (by name); we inspect job sites (on routine inspections)," said Bill Burke, of OSHA's construction directorate. OSHA has 4 reasons to inspect, he noted: imminent danger, deaths or multiple hospitalizations, complaints and referrals, and program (routine) inspections.

OSHA says its inspections were at an all-time low in 1996, partly because of government shut-downs and budget cuts. From the first quarter of 1996 to the first quarter in 1997, OSHA reported increasing its construction inspections by 73%, to 7,156 nationwide.

Bruce Swanson, head of OSHA's construction directorate, said the addition of regional construction coordinators will allow the agency to act more quickly and consistently on construction issues. Last winter, OSHA installed the coordinators in the 10 federal regions (see Impact XV, 1).