The number of occupational safety inspectors has declined “steadily” from 860 in 2014 to 750 in 2021, an issue that has made it difficult for the agency to protect workers in an estimated 8 million workplaces, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of the Inspector General on the department’s top management and performance challenges.
The annual report follows a similar one in November, in which the OIG said that during the pandemic, OSHA “did not adequately protect workers from the health risks of Covid-19.”
Tuesday’s report noted that it can take up to five years for an inspector to be fully trained, and that more money in the agency̵7;s budget this year did not correct the problem. “Although OSHA’s budget request included the hiring of 155 new inspectors in fiscal year 2022, the current shortage of available inspectors and the time lag for an inspector to become fully trained could lead to fewer inspections, reduced enforcement of high-risk industries, and ultimately, greater risk of injuries or impaired health of workers,” the report states.
In addition, OSHA has been at a disadvantage in protecting workers who report potential workplace safety violations and complete subsequent whistleblower investigations within the statutory requirement of 30, 60 or 90 days, the inspector general’s office found.
“The pandemic caused a significant increase in the number of whistleblower reports received by OSHA, while the number of full-time (FTE) employees, including inspectors in OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program, decreased,” the report said, adding that during the initial months of the pandemic , February 1, 2020, through May 31, 2020, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program received 4,101 complaints, a 30% increase over the complaints received during the same period in 2019.
Underreporting of injuries by employers is also an issue that makes it difficult for the agency to determine the most at-risk workplaces, “limiting their ability to focus inspection and compliance efforts where they are most needed,” the report said.