Report Describes Significant Enforcement, Data Challenges Facing OSHA

June 13, 2022
OSHA faces significant challenges in both the agency’s efforts to enforce workplace safety and health standards and in collecting injury and illness data that is used to target inspections, according to a report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report specifically highlights the challenges OSHA faced related to implementation of the two emergency temporary standards it issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO states that it conducted this study due to concerns about OSHA’s crisis preparedness arising from its efforts to protect workers from COVID-19. GAO’s report examines the agency’s enforcement actions related to the pandemic, its development and use of standards, and efforts to obtain illness and injury data.
The report notes that from February 2020 through June 2021, OSHA responded to the pandemic mainly through enforcing its existing applicable standards, such as those related to respiratory protection, and its general duty clause, which can be applied for hazards that lack specific standards when certain criteria are met. But GAO found that OSHA inspectors experienced difficulties with both strategies, in part because citing general duty clause violations requires significant documentation.
In 2021, OSHA issued two emergency temporary standards intended to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic: one covering healthcare employees treating COVID-19 patients and one that required large employers to implement COVID-19 vaccination and testing plans. Both standards have been entirely or partially withdrawn, with only the recordkeeping portions of the healthcare standard remaining in effect. The report explains that OSHA is currently engaged in the rulemaking process for a permanent infectious disease standard that has been in development since 2010. GAO explains that the agency’s standard-setting process is lengthy, citing previous GAO reporting that found that “it took OSHA more than 7 years, on average, to develop and issue a new standard.”
GAO also identified obstacles to OSHA’s data collection efforts. Between 2016 and 2018, GAO estimates that employers for more than 50 percent of establishments did not report required injury and illness data. The GAO study also found that OSHA issued significantly fewer citations for recordkeeping violations after a 2012 court decision that limited the time period in which OSHA was allowed to cite these violations, and that the agency has few procedures for encouraging compliance and penalizing noncompliance to recordkeeping requirements. GAO’s report explains that these challenges are significant because OSHA uses injury and illness data to target inspections.
To address these issues, GAO reiterates recommendations it issued in January and October 2021 for OSHA to evaluate its data reporting procedures and assess challenges related to its COVID-19 response efforts.
For more information and to download a PDF of the report, visit GAO’s webpage.
EPA Issues First Test Order Under National Testing Strategy for PFAS
As a part of the EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, the agency issued the first in a series of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) test orders to require companies to conduct and submit testing on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). When EPA announced its Strategic Roadmap to confront PFAS contamination nationwide, the agency also released the National PFAS Testing Strategy to help identify PFAS data needs and require testing to fill those gaps.
“For far too long, families across America, especially those in underserved communities, have suffered from PFAS. High-quality, robust data on PFAS helps EPA to better understand and ultimately reduce the potential risks caused by these chemicals,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Our communities deserve transparency from the companies that use or produce these substances about their potential environmental and human health impacts.”
EPA selected 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonamide betaine (CASRN 34455-29-3) as the first order issued pursuant to the National PFAS Testing Strategy. 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonamide betaine has been manufactured (defined to include importing) in significant quantities (more than 25,000 pounds in a given year) according to TSCA Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) rule reports. This chemical substance is a surfactant used to make commercial fire-fighting foams and may be found in certain floor finishes. CDR data also indicate that at least 500 workers in a given year could be potentially exposed to this chemical. Although there is some hazard and exposure information about this PFAS, EPA found there is insufficient data to determine the effects on human health associated with the inhalation route of exposure. This test order will address this data need.
The Chemours Company, DuPont De Nemours Inc., National Foam Inc., and Johnson Controls Inc. are the recipients of this first test order. The companies subject to the test order may conduct the tests as described in the order, including testing of physical-chemical properties and health effects following inhalation, or provide EPA with existing information that they believe EPA did not identify in its search for existing information. EPA encourages companies to jointly conduct testing to avoid unnecessary duplication of tests. The order employs a tiered testing process, as TSCA requires. The results of all the first-tier testing are required to be submitted to EPA within 400 days of the effective date of the order and will inform the decision as to whether additional tests are necessary. The orders and any data submitted in response to these orders that are not subject to a valid confidentiality claim will be made publicly available on EPA’s website and in applicable dockets on
North Carolina DEQ Announces Action Strategy for PFAS
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality announced the agency’s Action Strategy for PFAS recently during an event in Wilmington. The DEQ Action Strategy for PFAS contains three priorities: protecting communities, protecting drinking water and cleaning up existing contamination.
“Families deserve to have confidence that they're getting clean water when they turn on the tap," Governor Cooper said. "North Carolina has taken the lead across the country in demanding accountability for PFAS and other emerging chemical compounds and this plan will help us continue to proactively protect our communities.”
“In the last five years, communities along the Cape Fear River have learned far more than most about GenX and PFAS, or forever chemicals, and their impacts and we want to ensure that in the future no other community experiences what they have already been though,” said Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser. “DEQ’s Action Strategy lays out our priorities to address PFAS comprehensively across our state and our commitment to propose enforceable standards for PFAS chemicals.”
DEQ’s priority areas include actions to identify health and exposure risks, develop the science needed to set enforceable limits, and steps to minimize future PFAS pollution.  
DEQ, in consultation with DHHS and the Secretaries’ Science Advisory Board, is working to create a list of Priority PFAS compounds most prevalent in North Carolina. DEQ plans to propose groundwater, surface water and drinking water standards for priority PFAS and will initiate rulemaking for those that have available scientific data. For compounds without the required data, DEQ will work with academic partners to develop the data needed to set standards.
While standards are being developed, DEQ will provide technical assistance to permittees who take early action and chose to reduce their releases into the environment through materials substitution, pollution control and treatment systems, and other innovative techniques.
Westlake Chemical Corporation Subsidiaries Agree to Reduce Harmful Air Pollution
Five subsidiaries of Westlake Chemical Corporation — Westlake Chemical OpCo LP; Westlake Petrochemicals, LLC; Westlake Polymers, LLC; Westlake Styrene, LLC; and Westlake Vinyls, Inc. — have agreed to make upgrades and perform compliance measures estimated to cost $110 million to resolve allegations that they violated the Clean Air Act and state air pollution control laws at two of their petrochemical manufacturing facilities located in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and one facility in Calvert City, Kentucky. The Westlake companies will also pay a $1 million civil penalty. The settlement will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from flares.
According to the complaint, also filed recently by the United States, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the State of Louisiana, the companies failed to properly operate and monitor their industrial flares, which resulted in excess emissions of harmful air pollution at the three facilities. The company regularly “oversteamed” the flares and failed to comply with other key operating constraints to ensure the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) contained in the gases routed to the flares are efficiently combusted. 
“This settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency are committed to addressing excessive and harmful air pollution from improperly operated petrochemical flares,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The settlement’s significant reductions of hazardous and other air pollutants and greenhouse gases will serve to reduce exposure in the vulnerable nearby communities with environmental justice concerns.”
“This settlement will require the Westlake companies to install pollution control and emissions monitoring equipment at the three facilities, reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful gases by thousands of tons per year,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Those controls, plus a requirement for fence line monitoring of benzene emissions and corrective actions when benzene readings are high, will result in significant benefits for the local communities in Kentucky and Louisiana.”
The settlement requires the three facilities to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce flaring and the resulting harmful air pollution from eight flares at the three facilities. Once fully implemented, the pollution controls are estimated to reduce emissions of ozone-forming VOCs by 2,258 tons per year and of toxic air pollutants, including benzene, by 65 tons per year. The settlement is also expected to reduce emissions of climate-change-causing greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and ethane, by over 50,733 tons per year.
This settlement also contains innovative injunctive relief measures that continue this administration’s efforts to use enforcement to reduce the impacts of harmful pollutants on overburdened communities and to fight climate change by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. The significant emissions reductions of VOCs and HAPs secured at the facilities serve to reduce exposure in the community to some of the same air pollutants to which they are disproportionately exposed. The improved combustion efficiency requirements, flare gas recovery system, requirements to reduce flaring, and limits on flaring included in the settlement will reduce the carbon footprint of all three facilities.
The Westlake companies will perform air quality monitoring that is designed to detect the presence of benzene at the fence lines of the three facilities. Monitoring results must be posted to a publicly available website, providing the neighboring communities with more information about their air quality. The monitoring requirements also include triggers for root cause analysis and corrective actions if fence line emissions exceed certain thresholds. Flare compliance is an ongoing priority for the EPA under its Creating Clean Air for Communities National Compliance Initiative.
The pollutants addressed by the settlement can cause significant harm to public health. VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Chronic exposure to benzene, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen, can cause numerous health impacts, including leukemia and adverse reproductive effects in women. Flares are also often large sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Flares are devices used to combust waste gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere during certain industrial operations. Well-operated flares should have high “combustion efficiency,” meaning they combust nearly all harmful waste gas constituents, like VOCs and HAPs, and turn them into water and carbon dioxide. The agreement — the eighth of its kind since 2013 — is designed to improve the Westlake companies’ flaring practices. First, it requires the company to minimize the amount of waste gas that is sent to the flares, which reduces the amount of flaring. Second, the company must improve the combustion efficiency of its flares when flaring is necessary. The Westlake companies will take several steps to minimize the waste gas sent to its flares at each facility. All three facilities will operate a flare gas recovery system that recovers and “recycles” the gases instead of sending them to be combusted in a flare. The flare gas recovery system will allow Westlake to reuse these gases as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale. For flaring that must occur, the agreement requires that the Westlake companies install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that the gases sent to its flares are efficiently combusted.
The consent decree, lodged in the Western District Court of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
Metal Buildings' Manufacturer Willfully Exposed Employees to Amputation Hazards
After a 40-year-old worker suffered the partial amputation of one finger and an injury to a second one while cleaning a machine at a metal buildings manufacturer in January 2022, federal workplace safety inspectors found the company willfully exposed the worker to amputation hazards.
OSHA determined that a lack of functional machine safety locks allowed the rag the worker was using to become caught and pulled into the machine's steel rollers, leading to the injury.
OSHA cited Corle Building Systems, Inc., for a willful violation for inadequate machine guarding. The agency also cited the company for four serious violations for failing to develop lockout/tagout procedures to prevent unexpected machine start-up, perform an annual review of its lockout/tagout program and ensure the machine was locked out before workers began cleaning it.
The company faces $154,143 in proposed penalties.
“Corle Building Systems failure to comply with required machine guarding standards led to a serious and preventable injury,” said OSHA Area Director Christopher Robinson in Pittsburgh. “Employers are legally responsible for inspecting all equipment regularly, ensuring machine guards and safety devices are working properly and training workers on how to do their jobs safely.”
EPA Announces Winners of the 2022 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards
The EPA recently announced the winners of the 2022 Green Chemistry Challenge Awards. Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation and use of hazardous substances. This year’s winners have developed new and innovative green chemistry technologies that provide solutions to significant environmental challenges and spur innovation and economic development. In support of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis, EPA added a new award category this year that recognizes technology that reduces or eliminates greenhouse gas emissions.
“Tackling environmental challenges like climate change and the disproportionate impact of pollution in communities with environmental justice concerns is going to take creative and innovation solutions – and sustainable, green chemistry is a critical part of that,” said EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Deputy Assistant Administrator Jennie Romer. “Preventing waste, reducing energy use, and avoiding hazardous chemicals, all of which we’re recognizing with our awards today, demonstrate the power and potential green chemistry has to protect human health and the environment while providing benefits to businesses and our economy.”
The 2022 winners are:
  • Professor Song Lin of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, for developing a new, more efficient process to create large and complicated molecules that are widely used in the pharmaceutical industry. The new technology avoids using hazardous materials and has the potential to reduce both energy use and wasteful byproducts.
  • Merck, Rahway, New Jersey, for developing a greener way to make LAGEVRIO™ (molnupiravir), an antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Merck significantly improved the manufacturing process for this antiviral drug in a short time, producing ingredients more efficiently and greatly reducing solvent waste and energy use.
  • Amgen, Thousand Oaks, California, for an improved manufacturing process for LUMAKRAS™ (sotorasib), a novel drug for the treatment of certain non-small cell lung cancers. Amgen’s innovation decreased manufacturing time, the amount of solvent waste generated and established a recycling process for a high-value waste stream.
  • Provivi, Santa Monica, California, for creating ProviviFAW®, a biological pheromone-based product that controls the fall armyworm, a destructive pest of corn. The product’s pheromone active ingredients are produced through innovative green chemistry using renewable plant oils. ProviviFAW™ can reduce the need for conventional pesticides, which can be harmful to beneficial insects, such as pollinators.
  • Professor Mark Mascal of the University of California, Davis, California, in partnership with Origin Materials, for a technology that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by producing chemicals for making polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic from biomass rather than petroleum. This novel chemistry could have significant climate impacts by replacing fossil-based products with carbon-neutral, biobased products, especially when the technology is scaled to an entire industry.
EPA recognized the winners during the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. Since 1996, EPA and the American Chemical Society, which co-sponsor the awards, have received more than 1,800 nominations and presented awards to 133 technologies that decrease hazardous chemicals and resources, reduce costs, protect public health, and spur economic growth. Winning technologies are responsible for reducing the use or generation of nearly one billion pounds of hazardous chemicals, saving over 20 billion gallons of water and eliminating nearly eight billion pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents released to the air.
An independent panel of technical experts convened by the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute formally judged the 2022 submissions and made recommendations to EPA for the 2022 winners.
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