SC&RA COMMENT: Changes ahead

By Joel Dandrea11 November 2019

Workplace safety gets a new weighting system.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to help ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.


As part of that ongoing mission, OSHA has implemented a new weighting system for workplace safety for fiscal year 2020. Effective October 1, the new OSHA Weighting System (OWS) takes the place of the former time-centric program – implemented in 2015 – and is based on an evaluation of the existing program and recommendations from a working group.

The move comes from the growing concern that the current reliance on the factor of time does not provide a holistic evaluation of a workplace’s safety and health. OSHA understands time is not the only factor to assess when considering the potential impact of an inspection. Other factors – like types of hazards inspected and abated and effective targeting – also influence the impact on workplace safety and health. The new system includes enforcement initiatives, like Site-Specific Targeting, to the weighting system.

OWS will encourage the appropriate allocation of resources to support OSHA’s balanced approach of promoting safe and healthy workplaces, and continue to develop and support a management system that focuses enforcement activities on critical and strategic areas where the agency’s efforts can have the most impact.

According to OSHA, under the current system, OSHA weights certain inspections based on the time taken to complete the inspection or, in some cases, the impact of the inspection on workplace safety and health. Ultimately, OWS recognizes that time is not the only factor to assess when considering the potential impact of an inspection. The system will continue to weight inspections, but will do so based on other factors, including agency priorities and the impact of inspections, rather than simply on a time-weighted basis.

A balanced approach

In a recent piece for Construction Dive, Edwin G. Foulke Jr., former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA under President George W. Bush, noted that it’s too early to tell how OWS, and its changes, will impact the construction industry.

Foulke Jr. pointed out that some areas of “high-hazard emphasis,” like the Fatal Four, could certainly “come into play.”

In the construction industry, certain hazards are present daily on the jobsite – falls, electrical exposure, struck-by and caught-in/between situations – resulting in nearly 600 worker fatalities in the U.S. each year.

If those hazards, indicated Foulke Jr., or any other construction focus areas, are given high enough weighting, it could prompt area offices to put more emphasis on them, meaning more inspections.

The Construction Dive piece revealed that OSHA’s 2015 weighting system assigned enforcement units (EUs) for various kinds of inspections. As an example (not a full listing), inspectors would assign 2 EUs for Federal Agency Inspections, 7 EUs for Process Safety Management Inspections, 5 EUs for Ergonomic Hazard Inspections, 3 EUs for Fatalities and Catastrophes, 3 EUs for Significant Cases and 3 EUs for Workplace Violence Hazard Inspections.

Expanding outward, the new OWS approach reinforces OSHA’s balanced approach to occupational safety and health (i.e., strong and fair enforcement, compliance assistance and recognition) and will incorporate the three major work elements performed by the field: enforcement activity, essential enforcement support functions (e.g., severe injury reporting and complaint resolution) and compliance assistance efforts.

Regardless of the systems OSHA uses for compliance and enforcement, safety and risk management experts continue to agree that every company must maintain a proactive, top-to-bottom safety culture. Owners and managers should work with their insurance and risk management teams to thoroughly review OSHA data, industry trends and company-specific records, and should conduct ongoing training and education to protect employees and all other company assets.

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