EHS Management, Enforcement and Inspection

OSHA Has Revised Its Enforcement Weighting System

OSHA has replaced its Enforcement Weighting System (EWS) with a new OSHA Weighting System (OWS) to encourage its field staff to conduct compliance assistance activities, in addition to performing enforcement inspections to reduce the deadliest workplace hazards.

OSHA safety concept

Panchenko Vladimir /

The OWS became effective October 1. The revised system will give weight to compliance assistance activities such as Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) evaluations, activities in support of agency alliances or strategic partnerships, giving speeches, and staffing OSHA information booths, according to an agency white paper describing the new weighting system.

The OWS also includes weighting for OSHA’s “focus four” hazards—falls, struck-by object, electrocutions, and caught-in/between hazards—that are the leading causes of construction fatalities other than highway collisions.

Changing Metrics

Before the 2015 EWS, the agency measured enforcement activity solely by the number of inspections conducted by Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs). Giving all inspection equal weight created an incentive to conduct less demanding inspections.

The EWS attempted to give weight to more time and resource-intensive inspections for ergonomic hazards, process safety management violations, and workplace violence hazards. It introduced the Enforcement Unit (EU) measure in fiscal year 2015, giving 7 EUs for process safety management inspections and 5 EUs for ergonomics and workplace violence inspections.

The new OWS deemphasizes the time weighting for ergonomics, PSM, and workplace violence inspections to realign agency resources with new priorities.

However, OWS still recognizes the need for the most important enforcement activities, awarding 7 EUs for inspections involving criminal or significant cases. The agency still intends to pursue employers with patterns of noncompliance.

The new system now awards only 5 EUs for PSM-covered inspections and inspections under the chemical plant national emphasis program, according to a September 30 memorandum to regional administrators from OSHA’s enforcement directorate. OSHA also assigns 5 EUs to inspections following a fatality or catastrophe.

The weighting systems awards 3 EUs for inspections for the agency’s “focus four” hazards:

  • Caught-in or between hazards, such as trenching, and equipment and oil & gas operations;
  • Electrical hazards, such as overhead power lines and electrical wiring methods;
  • Fall hazards, such as scaffolds or elevated walking working surfaces; and
  • Struck-by hazards, including highway work zones, landscaping, and materials handling.

Inspections for ergonomics and workplace violence hazards now only earn 2 EUs. OSHA also will assign 2 EUs for inspections for:

  • Amputation hazards;
  • Combustible dust;
  • Federal agency inspections;
  • Heat hazards;
  • Non-Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) overexposures;
  • Permit-required confined space hazards in grain storage, maritime, or construction workplaces;
  • Personal sampling for air contaminants or noise; and
  • Site-specific targeting.

All other inspections are awarded 1 EU. However, inspections under local and regional emphasis programs earn 2 to 3 EUs. The agency has yet to determine weighting for compliance assistance activities. OSHA will decide which activities to include and how much weight to assign each.

The agency told regional administrators that the OWS prioritizes three key activities—enforcement, essential enforcement support functions, and compliance assistance.

The OWS has been in development since the Obama administration. The OWS has been in testing and running in parallel with the EWS since FY 2017, which began October 1, 2016. The agency planned to reevaluate the EWS at least every five years, former Administrator David Michaels indicated in the 2015 memo rolling out the EWS.

How Will the New OWS Affect You?

If you own or manage a construction company, know that the agency is targeting four fatal construction hazards. Shore up your electrical and trenching safety compliance, as well as, ladder, scaffolding, and walking-working surface fall protection. Be mindful of struck-by hazards, such as highway work zones, landscaping, and materials handling.

Check if the agency has an emphasis program for your industry or employers in your area.

However, the good news for employers is that CSHOs now have an incentive to provide compliance assistance. Consider requesting compliance assistance from OSHA field staff or participating in the VPP.