In 2022, the Occupational, Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) added 142 inspectors to its ranks, as part of an effort to reverse a downtrend in agency manpower brought on principally by retirements. The Biden administration’s announced goal is to nearly double the number of inspectors by 2024.
According to a November 2022 Department of Labor report, titled “U.S. Department of Labor’s Top Management and Performance Challenges,” OSHA has faced a staffing shortage. Namely, the total number of inspectors fell from 860 in 2014 to an all-time low of 750 in 2021 (this does not include States with OSHA-approved State Plans). Compounding the problem is that it can take five years for an inspector to become fully trained. As a result, the Department is concerned that this can ultimately lead to fewer inspections and reduced workplace safety compliance.
To address these and other challenges, OSHA’s budget has increased in recent years. Its $632 million budget for FY 2023 reflects a $20 million increase from FY 2022—although the Biden administration sought a nearly $90 million increase.
OSHA’s recruitment efforts appear to be paying off thus far. Bloomberg Law reports that the total number of federal OSHA inspectors grew from 750 in 2021, to 892 in 2022. It remains to be seen whether OSHA can meet President Biden’s goal of doubling its inspector ranks, to around 1500 within the next two years.
Employers should continue to ensure documentation of compliance with OSHA requirements, particularly given OSHA’s aggressive efforts to increase manpower and, consequently, inspection numbers. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests OSHA is citing more willful and repeat violations as well as assessing higher penalties.
This underscores the importance of proactively seeking legal counsel when first learning of an upcoming OSHA inspection, rather than waiting until after receiving a citation, to hopefully help limit the scope of any citation.