Contractor Safety, Personnel Safety, Special Topics in Safety Management

GAO Finds History of Safety Violations Among Defense Contractors

Department of Defense (DOD) contracting officials need to more closely focus on contractor safety performance when awarding defense contracts, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

aircraft manufacturing

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The GAO also wants OSHA to consistently include a searchable company identification number in its inspection and enforcement data.

The GAO found a history of workplace safety and health violations among companies that were awarded defense contracts, according to its report, “Defense Contracting: Enhanced Information Needed on Contractor Workplace Safety.” However, GAO auditors found it difficult to match defense contractors with company names in OSHA’s database.

Data Limitations

There were several limitations to the GAO investigation:

  • The 192 companies with manufacturing or construction contracts investigated were not a representative sample of all DOD contractors;
  • Differences in data between the DOD’s acquisitions database and OSHA’s inspection and enforcement database made it difficult to determine whether violations occurred on DOD projects; and
  • Corporate identification numbers, such as Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) numbers, Employer Identification Numbers (EIN), and Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TIN), are not required fields in OSHA’s database.

GAO Investigation

The GAO was instructed to review issues related to the safety and health records of DOD contractors as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. Auditors were assigned to examine the incidence of prior serious safety or health violations among selected companies with DOD manufacturing and construction contracts, and how DOD contracting officials address contractor workplace safety and health during the acquisition process.

The GAO was instructed to look at the manufacturing and construction sectors, which experience typically high rates of worker injuries. The GAO selected 100 companies with manufacturing contracts and 100 with construction contracts during fiscal year 2017. After eliminating duplicate companies, the GAO examined the safety and health records of 192 DOD contractors. Out of the 192:

  • 106 were inspected by OSHA or a state safety and health agency from FY 2013 to 2017;
  • 83 were cited for a safety or health violation;
  • 52 were cited for at least one serious safety or health violation; and
  • 3 were cited for at least one repeat, serious safety or health violation.

Fatal Accident Investigations

The inspections included some involving worker fatalities. The accidents in which 7 workers died included:

  • A hydrogen blast in a melting chamber that resulted in one worker being pinned under a 20,000 pound lid, another receiving second degree burns, and a third being killed;
  • A barge that capsized after a crane tilted over, and one worker drowned;
  • A worker who fell 98 feet from an elevator and was killed;
  • A worker who sustained a fatal electric shock when replacing jumper wires on a high voltage transmission corner tower, and another worker who was injured;
  • An autoclave that exploded, striking and killing a worker with extreme force; and
  • A vessel that became unmoored due to high winds and struck a pier which then collapsed, pulling two workers underwater, one of whom died.

GAO Recommendations

The GAO had one recommendation for OSHA and two for the DOD. The GAO suggested that OSHA explore the feasibility of requiring a corporate identification number in its inspection database and enabling its website to be searched by that number.

The GAO acknowledged in its report that supervisors onsite during an OSHA or state investigation often don’t know their companies’ DUNS number, EIN, or TIN. Agency officials cannot issue citations or assess penalties if the inspection record remains open while waiting to obtain identifying numbers.

Loren Sweatt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, responded to the GAO’s recommendation. Sweatt explained that only 42% of establishments inspected between February 2011 and May 2017 provided an EIN. She further commented that changing OSHA data systems to create a new searchable field would require substantial costs and approximately 6 months to develop and implement the change.

The GAO also recommended that the DOD take the following steps:

  • Advise contracting officials that the OSHA website is a resource for information about contractors’ workplace safety and health records.
  • Explore the feasibility of requiring a safety performance rating for contracts in industries that have relatively high rates of occupational injuries, such as manufacturing, construction, and ship building and repairing.

The DOD concurred with both recommendations.