OSHA Enforcement Strengthens Under Biden Administration as Staffing Levels and Inspections Increase

Washington, D.C. (AP) – The enforcement of workplace safety laws has varied depending on the administration in power, with a significant focus placed on strong enforcement during Democratic administrations and a greater emphasis on compliance assistance during Republican administrations. The Occupational Safety and Health Act highlights the importance of enforcement, but challenges persist across all administrations due to limitations in resources and statutory authority.

Under the Biden administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made strides in rebuilding the agency’s capacity by hiring new inspectors and addressing workplace disasters. This shift contrasts with the Trump administration, which faced a decline in the number of OSHA inspectors due to hiring freezes. The Biden administration has prioritized hiring inspectors and filling important agency positions, along with implementing national emphasis programs to tackle complex hazards and hold employers accountable.

In recent years, OSHA inspections have increased, with federal OSHA conducting 34,249 inspections in FY 2023 and state OSHA programs conducting 34,894 inspections. However, there has been a decline in enforcement activity for significant and complicated cases, a trend that started during the Trump administration. Changes in inspection protocols have contributed to this decrease, affecting the agency’s ability to conduct thorough inspections.

The Biden administration’s approach to enforcement includes issuing national emphasis programs to target specific areas such as combustible dust, falls in construction, and workplace violence. These efforts aim to enhance enforcement in high-risk industries and address urgent issues, such as COVID-19 safety concerns. The administration has also continued programs from the Obama era, such as the Severe Violator Enforcement Program and the Temporary Worker Initiative, to prioritize worker safety.

In terms of OSHA violations and penalties, recent years have seen an increase in penalties for serious violations. The Biden administration has implemented policies to make penalties more effective in deterring unsafe workplace practices, including issuing citations for serious violations and targeting high-hazard employers. The administration also highlights significant enforcement cases to raise public awareness and improve transparency.

Criminal enforcement under the Occupational Safety and Health Act remains limited, with few cases referred for prosecution. However, some states and localities have pursued criminal charges against employers in cases involving worker deaths and injuries. Efforts to expand criminal enforcement for safety and health hazards have been ongoing at both the federal and local levels, highlighting the need for stronger penalties to deter unsafe practices.

While progress has been made in extending OSHA coverage to certain sectors, millions of state and local government employees and workers in transportation and agriculture industries lack full protection under the OSH Act. Efforts to enhance coverage and protect workers in high-risk industries continue to be a priority for regulatory agencies and advocates.

Overall, the Biden administration’s focus on strengthening enforcement, addressing key workplace hazards, and increasing transparency in OSHA operations reflects a commitment to promoting worker safety and health in the United States.