OSHA Inspections

How to Survive SST Inspections

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: January 9th, 2012
Topics: OSHA Inspections |

You may be one of the roughly 15,000 companies who has gotten or will get a Site-Specific Targeting Program (SST) letter from OSHA telling you that your abnormally high injury and illness rates have made you a candidate for comprehensive inspection. The SST is not a notice of inspection. But it’s just as scary. And if you don’t respond to the warning, you will be in line for an inspection. Here’s why OSHA sends out these letters and what to do if you get one.

How SST Works

Counting state OSHA inspectors, there are just over 2,000 OSHA inspectors to police the millions of workplaces across the nation. Given these numbers, it’s imperative for OSHA to determine how to get the most out of these resources. Historically, OSHA relied heavily on random inspections. But in the last decade, OSHA shifted tactics in favor of targeted inspection.

SST is the centerpiece of this approach. Under the SST program, OSHA identifies facilities with higher than average rates of injuries and illnesses each year. To come up with its list, OSHA surveys nearly 80,000 workplaces and selects about 14,600 “high hazard facilities” based on their Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) rate and Days Away From Work Injury and Illness (DAFWII) rates.

3 Sets of OSHA Inspection Targets

There are actually 3 lists of “high hazard facilities”:

Primary Inspection List includes 3,700 sites with the highest DART or DAFWII rates (and/or failed to provide OSHA workplace injury and illness data for the previous year’s SST survey). OSHA tells Area Offices to inspect the “primary” sites first.

Secondary Inspection List includes sites with slightly lower—but still abnormally high—DART and DAFWII rates.

Tertiary Inspection List is the next level of target. OSHA only gets to the tertiary targets in those rare instances where it runs through the entire primary and secondary list for the year.

What to Do If You Get an SST Notice

The roughly 14,600 “high hazard” facilities are sent a letter from OSHA notifying them that their DART and/or DAFWII rate is too high. The letter recommends ways to lower these rates, primarily by contacting a consultation service to help correct the hazards. In the alternative, OSHA urges companies to hire an outside safety and health consultant or contact a state agency for advice on how to improve their injury and illness rates.

Facilities that don’t comply are targeted for comprehensive inspection, including review of the OSHA 300 logs, for at least 3 of the previous 4 years.

What to Do If You Get a Letter

Getting an SST letter doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to undergo an OSHA inspection. But the SST does mean that you’ve been placed on the SST program list, which is where programmed inspections come from.

How can SST recipients head off an inspection? “Call an OSHA consultation service,” suggests former OSHA Secretary, John Henshaw. “The service is free to small businesses that have no more than 250 employees at one site and 500 total employees,” he explains. The consultation service can help you identify potential hazards and corrective actions necessary to ensure compliance and improve occupational safety and health management systems. “If a site is working in good faith with OSHA consultation services, OSHA generally won’t conduct the programmed inspection,” says Henshaw.

The best part about a consultation service is that it’s completely separate from OSHA enforcement, so you won’t receive any OSHA citations or penalties, no matter how many violations the consultation service finds. And it’s also confidential. So consultants won’t report the information they uncover to OSHA inspectors.

Exception: If the consultation service identifies a serious hazard or imminent danger to workers that’s not corrected in a timely manner, it might be referred to an OSHA enforcement office for appropriate follow-up. Luckily, this has rarely occurred in the past, says Henshaw.

Compliance Pointer: Each state has its own consultation service. To find one in your state, go to www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/consult_directory.html.

Getting Outside Help

What if you hire your own consultant rather than use free consultation services? Although that may help bring your illness and injury rates down, it won’t help you prevent an inspection. Still, working with a consultant is something OSHA may take into account in issuing citations, says Henshaw.

Don’t Ignore Letter

The worst thing a company can do is ignore a high hazard facility letter, says Henshaw. “If you get a letter, you’ve been told by OSHA that your rates are too high. You’re on the list and you’ve got to fix it,” he explains.

OSHA’s Current SST Strategy

On Sept. 9, 2011, OSHA issued its most recent Site-Specific Targeting Directive—for FY 2011 based on work injury and illness data from 2010.