This report was commissioned by the California Department of Industrial Relations to examine the different types of inspections that the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) carries out and the roles that they play. It focuses on the three major inspection types in California: programmed (planned) inspections, complaint inspections, and accident investigations.
As is well known, programmed inspections in general industry cite substantially more serious violations (and total violations) than other inspection types do. However, complaint inspections take inspectors to workplaces whose injury rates are higher.
The number of complaint inspections fell sharply after 1992, dropping from 8,000 per year to fewer than 3,000 in recent years. Cal- OSHA (and OSHA) adopted a policy for dealing with “informal” complaints (defined as cases in which the complainant was unwilling to give his or her name) that relied primarily on a letter or fax to the employer rather than on an inspection. The employer was required to respond and to explain what it had done to abate the alleged hazard. One out of five of these fax-letter cases is supposed to be followed up by an inspection. Unfortunately, neither Cal-OSHA nor OSHA maintains records on the number of these faxletter complaints or on the subject of the hazard in its computerized files. In addition, there is no way to identify the inspections that were conducted to verify the employer’s compliance statements. Thus, we have almost no information on either the magnitude of this procedure or on how it is working.
CHSWC noted that one idea behind the original fax-letter procedure was that the agency would check back with the complainant to see whether he or she was satisfied with what the employer had said and done. But Cal-OSHA cannot check back if it lacks contact information. The absence of that information makes it more important to maintain data on the complaints that are handled through the fax-letter procedure. Currently, there is no simple way to track the results of those one in five inspections that are carried out to validate employer compliance. In addition, for regular complaint inspections, Cal-OSHA should maintain information about the subject of the complaints; it could use that information to assess how good workers were at identifying different hazards.
California requires that acute injuries that involve hospitalization for more than 24 hours (except for observation) and amputations must, along with fatalities, be reported to Cal-OSHA within eight hours. Except for cases in which other law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction (assaults and highway crashes), Cal-OSHA is obligated to investigate these injuries. Although most believe that fatalities are well-reported, the quality of reporting of nonfatal cases is less clear. National data suggest that the number of hospitalizations is probably well above the roughly 2,000 cases reported in California. The implication is that there is a great deal of underreporting of hospitalizations, at least in construction.
The CHSWC report concludes that the Department of Industrial Relations needs to develop a system for identifying the hospitalizations (and amputations) that employers are supposed to immediately report to Cal-OSHA.
Earlier studies of federal OSHA inspections showed that the number of serious violations cited per inspections fell by about 50 percent after the first inspection and more slowly thereafter. In California, the fall-off is not as fast and varies by inspection type. However, the results do suggest that it may be useful to put a priority on workplaces that have not had frequent inspections.
The CHSWC report recommends that workplaces in high-injury-rate industries that have not been inspected at all or not for many years should be identified and deserve some priority in programmed inspections.