OSHA Enforcement is the actual way by which OSHA standards are implemented. It is the actual implementation of OSHA standards by OSHA. The OSH Act, which established the OSHA in late 1970, also lays out rules and conditions under which OSHA Enforcement takes place. One of the responsibilities that OSHA has taken upon itself is that it trains, educates, assists and conducts outreach programs for OSHA Enforcement.
OSHA Enforcement is carried out through a number of specific activities set out by OSHA. OSHA Enforcement, which is monitored across all the States along with 28 State Plan states, covers private and some kinds of public sector employees, with the legally set out exemptions.
OSHA Enforcement is carried out through inspections, which are carried out without notice by highly trained and qualified compliance officers, and through the National Emphasis Programs (NEPs), which deal with the process aspect of safety. In implementing either of these; inspections are at the core of OSHA Enforcement.
OSHA carried out a total of over 36,000 inspections in 2014, at which it detected nearly 68,000 violations in all. This figure may seem on the higher side when viewed in isolation, but reflects a steady decrease in numbers from the previous years. In 2010, OSHA had detected over 96,000 violations.
Does this fall in number reflect an increase in the effectiveness of OSHA Enforcement?
This is a very important question most OSHA watchers are faced with. The number of violations has certainly come down over the years, as the statistic above suggests. But how effective have OSHA Enforcement and penalties been in controlling fatalities is the big question. This is a point to which OSHA itself admits there is no clear cut answer.
True, a fall in the number of violations is an indicator of the effectiveness of OSHA Enforcement, but in which areas have these numbers fallen? There are no precise data on whether a fall in the number of violations has led to an automatic decline in the number of fatalities. Experience has shown that only a general observation can be made: In locations in which there has been an OSHA Enforcement activity such as an inspection, there has been a generally lower level of violation.
Far less clearer is the figure on whether imposing fines for violations have had the effect of bringing down violations by employers. Whether imposing penalties has acted as a deterrent and has ensured greater compliance with OSHA Enforcement is a question that needs to be analyzed with more research as of now.