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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began an investigation into Indiana's state-level workplace safety agency after reports that the group was threatening employee safety under a new quota requirement.
According to the Indianapolis Star, the agency tried to increase inspections without hiring additional staff – a move that could lead to less thorough investigations. The new quota gives inspectors an average of 4.1 days to complete a yearly total of 61 inspections.
The short time period to complete the inspections may cause Indiana OSHA inspectors to feel obligated to breeze through the process of ensuring the proper safety procedures are followed and lead to artificially inflated inspection numbers.
The news report found that proper inspections take days or weeks to get sampling results back from a lab, which makes completing an inspection in four days almost impossible. One IOSHA inspection at Sensient Flavors, for example, identified serious safety violations taking place at the facility that was putting workers' health at risk. IOSHA found workers were being exposed to high levels of a chemical associated with fatal lung disease, and that more than a third of the employees were suffering from restrictive lung function. That inspection took nearly six months to complete, the Indianapolis Star reported. Under the new quota, however, such violations may not be identified.
Along with completing inspections in less time, inspectors working with IOSHA are also now encouraged to find at least two serious, knowing or repeat violations for every inspection they complete because those violations record the highest fines for companies, the article stated.
IOSHA's inspection numbers have dramatically decreased
Indiana's branch of the federal agency completed the least number of inspections in the state since it was offered federal approval to operate the program more than 25 years ago. According to the Indianapolis Star, only 1,332 inspections were performed in 2012, compared to as many as 8,000 inspections per year in the late 1980s.
IOSHA also fails to meet required staffing levels by approximately 30 personnel. The state is supposed to have at least 70 inspectors and only has about 40, the source stated.
"Not all situations are the same," said Frank Rosenthal, associate professor of occupational and environmental health sciences at Purdue University. "OSHA inspectors may need time to prepare for complex measurements, time to carry them out, time to get laboratory results and time to interpret the findings."
Worker safety can be significantly compromised as a result of the new quota system. In order to complete a higher number of inspections, IOSHA should hire additional employees, Rosenthal added.
In the case of Sensient Flavors, a toxic gas detector can assist inspectors who are looking for employee exposure to dangerous chemicals and gases.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection systems.