GAO Cites Concerns About OSHA’s Pandemic Performance

Report says OSHA must closely scrutinize itself to ensure future actions protect workers.

By HFT Staff
May 27, 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic moves through its third year, many organizations have started the process of assessing its impact, which was especially hard on healthcare facilities at the center of the nation’s response. In the case of the federal agency responsible for protecting workplace safety, the retrospective look is raising concerns about its preparedness and performance. 

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) asserts that the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) must closely scrutinize itself to ensure its actions in the future protect workers. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns about OSHA’s preparedness for a future crisis,” says Thomas M. Costa, GAO’s director of education, workforce and income security. “From February 2020 through June 2021, OSH) relied primarily on existing workplace safety and health standards and voluntary employer guidance for its COVID-19-related enforcement.” 

The report pointed to OSHA’s problems related to enforcing existing standards. 

“Inspectors faced challenges in applying existing OSHA requirements to COVID-19 hazards, and in citing general duty clause violations, which require large amounts of documentation,” according to the report. “OSHA officials experienced other enforcement challenges while operating during the pandemic, including those related to resources, and to communication and guidance, but the agency has not yet assessed related lessons learned or promising practices." 

The report notes that GAO officials expressed concerns with OSHA’s performance nearly a year ago. 

“GAO recommended in October 2021 that OSHA assess challenges the agency has faced in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and take related action,” according to the report. “OSHA partially agreed with this recommendation. GAO recommended in January 2021 that OSHA evaluate procedures for ensuring reporting of summary data and develop a plan to remediate deficiencies. OSHA generally agreed with this recommendation.” 

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