How effective is OSHA?

Deaths in the construction industry haven’t decreased in 10 years, calling into question the agency’s efficacy analyzed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s effectiveness and discovered the construction worker death rate has remained at 10 out of every 100,000 workers for the past 10 years.

Falls and electrocutions account for the most fatalities followed by struck-by and caught-in/between hazards, which include incidents when a vehicle, piece of machinery or material strikes or traps a worker. But it is important to note the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides little meaningful information about death and injury details because of new concerns over privacy.

Experts tell if OSHA wants to be a feared enforcer, it needs to increase inspections, enforce fines more strictly, wield more tools at its disposal and expand preventive consultations.

To that end, OSHA recently expanded its Serious Violators Enforcement Program. OSHA also instituted its National Emphasis Program on heat in April 2022 without a regulatory standard yet in place, which is unprecedented. NRCA members are reporting increased scrutiny by OSHA in some state-plan states, such as California, for all violations, including heat.

The study also suggests many repeat offenders find OSHA fines are too low to trigger a change in work practices. But this conclusion is somewhat skewed. Many roofing contractors have received fines, and OSHA will reduce fines for employers that have had good safety records and taken good-faith efforts to correct violations. OSHA also has been known to negotiate lower penalties in exchange for workers attending an OSHA 10-hour class, for example.

To complicate matters, a Bloomberg Law investigation shows OSHA often fails to collect fines. The investigation showed between 2018-2020, employers across all industries failed to pay $100 million in fines. In an email to, OSHA admitted that amount translates to the agency writing off about 14% of its fines from that period.

Part of the issue is OSHA’s staffing budget is at the mercy of Congress. In fiscal year 2022, OSHA requested 155 new federal inspectors, but Congress only funded salaries for 85, according to the Bloomberg Law investigation.

The best approach to saving workers’ lives rests in your hands. Awareness and training go a long way to helping build safer job sites. If you need help, go to or contact NRCA’s Enterprise Risk Management team.

AMBIKA PUNIANI REID is editor of Professional Roofing and NRCA’s vice president of communications.


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