OSHA reports rise in inspections, fines

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted more inspections and imposed larger fines in fiscal 2002 for violations of worker health and safety rules than it had the previous year, the agency announced this week.

But labor union officials skeptical of the Bush administration's emphasis on voluntary compliance programs over inspections expressed doubts today about OSHA's statistics, saying they plan to conduct their own analysis next month.

OSHA reported inspections of 37,493 workplaces and an increase of its average penalty for serious violations from $930 in fiscal 2001 to $977 in 2002. The rising average penalty means that the violations were more serious, the agency said. Serious violations of workplace safety and health laws accounted for 70 percent of all OSHA violations.

"One of my priorities has been and will continue to be strong, fair, effective enforcement, and these figures bear that out," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said Thursday. In his fiscal 2003 budget proposal, President Bush cut OSHA's budget by $9 million.

AFL-CIO Occupational Safety and Health Specialist Deborah Weinstock said today it was unusual for the Labor Department to release the enforcement data so prominently.

"Because they are so heavily reliant on their voluntary programs and alliances, we are very concerned that the enforcement level be maintained," she said.

Weinstock is responsible for the AFL-CIO's annual report, "Death on the Job," which presents the union's statistical analysis of workplace injuries and deaths, inspections and fines. She will begin compiling fiscal 2002 next month, with publication slated for April.

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