On February 11, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced revisions to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (“SVEP”). Under SVEP, employers in designated industries can be subject to unlimited return or unannounced inspections for a period of at least three years. Employers in the upstream oil and gas drilling industry were previously exempt from this program, which is otherwise dominated by construction and manufacturing firms.

The changes announced by OSHA mean that, effective February 11, 2015, employers in the upstream oil and gas industry will be added to SVEP upon a triggering event. Inclusion in SVEP is triggered after a non-fatality inspection results in two or more willful or repeated violations or failure-to-abate notices (or any combination of these violations or notices) for high-gravity, serious violations.

In announcing these changes to SVEP, OSHA cited the upstream oil and gas drilling industry’s “significant worker fatality rate over time.” By subjecting employers in this industry to more exhaustive inspections for triggering non-fatality events, OSHA aims to rein in the fatality rate in the industry that it claims is five to eight times higher than the national average for all industries in the United States.

OSHA launched SVEP on June 18, 2010, with the intention of targeting its enforcement efforts on “recalcitrant employers who demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees” (from OSHA’s “Severe Violator Enforcement Program White Paper,” which was published January 2013). And the number of industries and hazards covered by the program has consistently expanded since then. Employers in the upstream oil and gas drilling industry that are added to SVEP can be subjected to unannounced corporate wide inspections, rigorous follow-up inspections, more demanding abatement and settlement terms, and the publication of a press release regarding the SVEP citations. OSHA also lists all SVEP violators on its enforcement website.