July 22, 2011 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 5Comment

What do Kraft Foods Global, Tyson Foods, Sea World and Lucas Oil Production Studio have in common? They are four of the 147 employers identified by OSHA as “severe violators” of worker health and safety standards. Earlier this month, federal OSHA posted on its website a document listing employers in 30 States who meet the agency’s criteria as a

“recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law.”

The OSHA document is a 4-page PDF and for your convenience, I’ve converted it into a spreadsheet in MS-Excel to make it easier to sort the information by State, NAICS or other variable. The four companies listed above made their way onto the list after receiving a willful violation in 2010 related to a worker death at one of their sites.

Getting the SVEP label is not easy.

First, a workplace has to be the subject of a federal or State OSHA inspection. In any given year, less than 1% of worksites will have a vist from a government safety inspector. Second, the employer has to receive citations with violations classified as “willful,” “repeat,” or “failure-to-abate” (W/R/FTA). The vast majority of violations, however, are classified as “serious,” with only about 4% in the W/R/FTA category.

As I wrote when SVEP was announced last year, an employer wouldn’t receive the “severe violator” label because of willful infractions in the past. OSHA is using the SVEP to identify recalcitrant employers for possible future inspections.

The information posted by OSHA about the program tells us:

(a) 147 employers in 2010 and early 2011 had an OSHA inspection and because of the severity of the violations found by inspectors, the company qualified for the “severe violator” label. Nearly 22% of the inspections (32 incidents) on the OSHA list were conducted because a worker was killed on the job and the employer received at least one W/R/FTA violation.

(b) Of the 147 employers on the list, just 14 of them (9.5%) have been subject to at least one additional OSHA inspection, at the same or a different one of their workplaces. For example, following the September 2010 death of Andrew Dill, 20, in Morral, Ohio at Gavilon Grain, federal OSHA conducted six more inspections at other grain elevators owned by the same company. In total, the firm was cited for 46 safety and health violations with proposed penalties totaling $465,500. Likewise, after an inspection at the Cooper Tire & Rubber plant in Findlay, Ohio, where OSHA inspectors identified several violations including two classified as willful, the agency did a follow-up inspection at the company’s plant in Tupelo, MS. Safety inspectors identified 14 violations, including two willful, and proposed penalties of nearly $204,000.

(c) The States with the greatest number of employers designated as “severe violators” are Illinois (26), Texas (21), New Jersey (16), New York and Ohio with 15, Florida with eight, and Alabama, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin with six.

(d) Federal OSHA conducts inspections in private-sector workplaces in 29 States, while 21 States run their own OSHA programs with authority to inspect private sector workplaces. All but six of the 21 States have adopted a program comparable to federal OSHA’s SVEP. According to the information posted by OSHA, only three workplaces in three of these OSHA State Plan States (Arizona, Indiana, Washington) have an employer with the SVEP designation.

(e) More than half of the 147 employers with OSHA’s SVEP label operate in the construction industry. Given that OSHA conducts nearly 60% of its inspections at construction sites, it shouldn’t surprise us that the SVEP list is heavy with construction companies. Twenty-three of the employers on OSHA’s SVEP list are masonry contractors, 13 are involved in water and sewer line construction, and six in building poured concrete foundations. But the “severe violators” are not just in the construction industry. The OSHA list has employers involved in 78 different industries from commercial bakeries, metal stamping plants and sawmills, to Illinois meat processing plants, paper mills in New Hampshire and New York, and an Indiana boat builder.

Federal OSHA implemented the “Severe Violators Enforcement Program” (SVEP) a year ago in reponse to a March 2009 Inspector General report that was critical of the agency’s Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP). The IG said the EEP failed as a targeting program for bad-actors employers. When OSHA inspections found that an employer’s H&S practices put workers’ lives were at risk, the EEP failed to compel follow-up inspections at that site or others controlled by the same employer. Under SVEP, OSHA says that when an employer meets the “severe violator” criteria, the agency

“will conduct inspections at other worksites controlled by the same employer where similar hazards may be present.”

Thirty-one such follow-up inspections have been conducted. To put that in perspective, federal and State OSHA programs conduct about 100,000 inspections annually.

With 147 employers now on a list of bad actors, but only 14 of them subject to-date by a follow-up inspection, it may be too early to tell whether the OSHA’s SVEP is meeting its objective.

5 thoughts on “OSHA lists 147 employers as “Severe Violators” of worker safety standards

  1. Can anyone provide me with a copy of OSHA’s “severe violators” list that shows when Kraft Foods was placed on it and whether or not they were placed on it. Thanks in advance for your reply. Please post what you have in the body of your email.

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