In a recently issued 2009 Enforcement Summary, OSHA claims that violations issued against employers in fiscal year 2009 were up 2.8% since fiscal year 2005.  Furthermore, the total number of serious and repeat violations were up 10.9% and 17.5%, respectively, over the same five year period.  According to the Agency, "OSHA is committed to refocusing OSHA’s priorities through developing and enforcing standards to protect workers and moving toward tougher citations and penalties to provide a powerful incentive to respect their workers, integrate protection into business operations, and make prevention a priority."

While OSHA enforcement is generally up when compared to fiscal year 2005, a closer review of the enforcement statistics shows a more complicated picture.  When the 2009 numbers are compared to fiscal year 2007, for example, total violations were higher in fiscal year 2007 than in fiscal year 2009.  Furthermore, willful violations are down significantly (46.3%) since 2005.  Criminal referrals are also down from fiscal year 2006.

So what does all this mean for employers?  While there is some deviation in the overall numbers, there is little doubt that enforcement remains a top priority of OSHA — along with an increase in regulatory activity.  It is incumbent upon employers to thus proactively adress workplace hazards and adopt safety and health management systems to assist in the process.