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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Widespread Employer Under-Reporting to OSHA

Osha_logo_xsmSo finds a new astonishing and disturbing report released by the GAO this past Monday and reported on by the New York Times:

Employers and workers routinely underreport work-related injuries and illnesses, calling into question the accuracy of nationwide data that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration compiles each year, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.

The report, by the G.A.O., the auditing arm of Congress, said many employers did not report workplace injuries and illnesses for fear of increasing their workers’ compensation costs or hurting their chances of winning contracts.

The report also said workers did not report job-related injuries because they feared being fired or disciplined and worried that their co-workers might lose rewards, like bonuses or steak dinners, as part of safety-based incentive programs . . . .

According to the G.A.O. report, 67 percent of the 1,187 occupational health practitioners surveyed had reported observing worker fear of disciplinary action for reporting an injury or illness, and 46 percent said this fear had some impact on the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records.

It goes without saying that it is hard for OSHA inspectors to do their jobs if they are faced with this type of lying/gamesmanship.  It also shows that previous reports that injuries in the workplace were declining during the conservative Bush era are a bunch of hogwash.

OSHA inspectors will now have to start with the presumption that employers may be holding back the truth as far as injuries and illnesses in the workplace and will have to interview individual employees to get information on what is really going on in the workplace: "In response to the report, which examined OSHA’s audits from 2005 to 2007, the safety administration said it would adopt the accountability office’s recommendations, which include requiring inspectors to interview employees during all audits to check the accuracy of employer-provided injury data."

And you wonder why regulation of the workplace is necessary? Because many employers (not all) cannot be trusted.

Hat Tip: Josh Pollack

Paul Secunda

Posted by Workplace Prof on November 19, 2009 at 10:19 PM in Employment and Labor Law | Permalink


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My own experience in the construction trades (largely as a finish carpenter) confirms these findings. And I suspect individual interviews of workers, insofar as they are part of the remedy, will not be reliable, at least in the trades, owing to the immigrant status of many workers (at least here in Southern California).

Incidentally, and for a number of both justifiable and inexcusable reasons, Cal/OSHA enforcement of regulations is also notoriously erratic and weak (I recall one rule that was sometimes enforced: don't pin back the guard on a 'skilsaw' [i.e., circular saw: the use of the name is the carpenter's equivalent to the word 'Kleenex' for all facial tissue paper], although experience taught us the rule was not necessarily a good one owing to the fact that the guard often got stuck or hung up on pieces of wood, causing one to instictively yank the saw back towards one, which was arguably more dangerous than having the guard in place).

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Nov 20, 2009 9:40:46 AM

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