By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000060649530_MediumThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has just released a substantial update to its Field Operations Manual (FOM), CPL 02-00-159 (October 1, 2015). The FOM is a reference document for OSHA field personnel that provides enforcement policies and procedures in conducting OSHA investigations.

In his related blog, OSHA Administrator David Michaels, explains that in FY 2014 OSHA conducted 36,163 safety and health inspections, with another 47,217 inspections conducted by states that administer their own health and safety plans. “Each one of those inspections was important…. But the reality is that some required far more time and resources than others. For example, the inspection of an oil refinery or a chemical manufacturing facility is more complex and time-consuming than one of a trenching site. Those complex inspections make a big difference – showing employers, and the whole country, that we are determined to investigate serious hazards regardless of how complex or challenging those inspections may be.”

To reflect this “on-the-ground reality,” Michaels announced that OSHA is changing the way it plans for and measures OSHA inspections by giving “added weight to the most demanding and complex inspections by introducing a new measurement: the Enforcement Unit.” “Under the new Enforcement Weighting System, routine inspections are valued as one Enforcement Unit, while more complex categories are valued at up to eight Enforcement Units.” Under the new system “process safety management inspections will be valued at seven units, workplace violence inspections are three units, and inspections involving a chemical for which there is no permissible exposure limit are also three units.” Michaels notes that the enforcement values were set based on historical data.

This new Enforcement Weighting System also correlates to the updated FOM’s inspection priorities as set out in Table 2-1:

Priority Category
First Imminent Danger
Second Fatality/Catastrophe
Third Complaints/Referrals
Fourth Programmed Inspections


Under the FOM, by November 30, 2015, state plans must submit a notice of intent indicating if the they will adopt or already have in place enforcement policies and procedures that are “identical to or different from the federal program.” State adoption then “should be accomplished within six months.”