June 19, 2019

Warren Calls on Department of Defense and OSHA to Implement Workplace Safety Recommendations

Government Accountability Office Report Finds High Number of Workplace Safety and Health Violations by DOD Contractors


Text of letter to DOD (PDF)

Text of letter to OSHA (PDF)


Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) earlier this week sent letters to Undersecretary of Defense Ellen Lord and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt expressing concern about the high number of safety violations among large Department of Defense (DOD) contractors discovered by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and calling for further action from DOD and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to protect workers by fixing the gaps in contractor oversight that GAO identified.


Congress recognized the urgency of addressing this problem by including Senator Warren's provision in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that required GAO to study DOD's existing procedures for evaluating the workplace safety records of its contractors. That GAO report found that almost 80% of contractors it reviewed with either OSHA or state-level workplace safety inspections within the previous five years were found to have committed at least one violation.  Nearly half were cited for at least one serious violation, meaning that “there was a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or could have known… of the hazard.” Tragically, at least seven workers died in connection with the serious violations. The GAO also found that DOD contracting officers did not systematically consider a company’s safety record in reviewing its contract bid, and that gaps in OSHA data made it difficult to track down a prospective contractor in OSHA’s database.


GAO made two recommendations for DOD officials in the report: (1) inform contracting officers that “the OSHA website is a resource for information about contractors’ workplace safety and health records,” and (2) explore the feasibility of requiring a safety performance rating in industries that have relatively high rates of occupational injuries, such as manufacturing, construction, and ship building and repairing. In itsresponse to GAO, DOD committed to implementing those recommendations. GAO additionally made recommendations that OSHA close gaps in data collection and availability that impair oversight of DOD contractors.


In her letters to DOD and OSHA, Senator Warren expressed concern about the high number of safety violations among large contractors, andrequested that the agencies take further action to improve the process gaps that GAO identified—specifically, in data availability and storage for OSHA, and in incorporating OSHA data in reviews of contracting bids for DOD.


“These findings are disturbing, because they strongly suggest that many companies receiving billions of dollars in manufacturing and construction contracts from DOD are seriously endangering the health and safety of their employees in violation of federal law,” wrote Senator Warren in her letter. “The prevalence of workplace safety and health violations among DOD contractors revealed by GAO’s findings is unacceptable.”


Senator Warren’s letters asked a series of questions about how the agencies will implement GAO’s recommendations, and how they will address the problem of large contracts going to companies that have endangered their workers. She requested answers to her questions by July 8, 2019.