Interpreting OSHA’s on-line data

Last fall, Mr. Rosaulino Montano, 46, a worker on my campus at the George Washington University, died when he fell seven stories while installing windows on a new $75 million residence hall.  Mr. Montano was an employee of Engineered Construction Products,  and because his work-related death occurred at my place of employment, I was particularly interested in tracking the OSHA investigation until the case was closed.  I wondered whether there was a “controlling employer,” such as a general contractor or even if my employer, GWU, and whether they had some responsibility for safety at the site.

Over the next few months, I used OSHA’s Establishment Search Page in an effort to monitor progress on the investigation, but consistently received the same unsatisfactory message: “Your Establishment search returned O results.”   

Figuring that I was probably not using the search tool correctly, I spoke to a very helpful woman in Balt/DC OSHA Area Office.  She informed me that if a case is still open, it will not appear in the publicly available database, even though the search tool allows you to select “Open” for the prompt “Case Status.”   I chalked this up to a glitch in the system, and decided I would simply file a FOIA request at about OSHA’s 6-month statutory deadline for issuing citations and penalties. 

I sent my FOIA request to OSHA’s Balt/DC Area Office, and they responded promptly, sending me a copy of the citation and notification of penalty for Engineered Construction Products.  The firm received one serious violation for violating OSHA’s fall protection standard (1926.501(b)(1)) and a monetary penalty of $2,500.  This was the only citation and penalty issued in relation to Mr. Rosaulino Montano, 46, fatal injury.   No other employers, such as my employer George Washington University, was deemed responsible for ensuring safety at the site.

Now that the case is closed, when I use OSHA’s Establishment Search Page, I no longer get the “O results” message.  Instead, I get a response that raises more questions than it answers.   Here’s a screenshot, and note the message:

“This violation item has been deleted.”

What does OSHA mean the “violation item has been deleted”?  I searched OSHA’s Field Operations Manual and didn’t find a single entry explaining how a violation is deleted.  Can someone explain what this means, or better yet, can OSHA put a legend or explanatory text on this webpage to help us interpret this on-line data?  

If you look at the screenshot, the page offers other data points that are not self-explanatory.  For example:

  • ViolType: Serious

If the “violation item has been deleted,” what is this serious violation?

What about these entries:

  • NrInstances: 1
  • NrExposed: 3

Is it correct to assume Nr means “number,” as in “number of instances” and “number of exposed”?  Here too, a little legend explaining these data points and why they are relevant would be helpful.  For example, does “NrExposed:3″ mean that three workers on the site were also not provided with appropriate fall protection, as required by 1926.501(b)(1):

“Each employee on a walking/working surface (horizontal or vertical surface) with an unprotected side or edge which is g feet or more above a lower level must be protected from falling by the use of guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.”

The data points “NrInstances:1″ and “NrExposed:3″ may mean something to those inside OSHA, but not to us on the outside.

Similarly, can someone fill me in on the meaning of: “REC: A”??

Finally, the screenshot shows a datapoint for “Gravity” with the notation:

  • Gravity: 10

Because there is not legend for these entries, is it safe to assume that this value of “10″ refers to the IMIS codes listed on page 6-6 of OSHA’s Field Operations Manual.  According to the table on page 6-6, a violation of “High Severity,” “Greater Probability” and “High Gravity” gets an IMIS Code of “10,” the highest possible code.   That’s a troubling finding by OSHA, right?: a high severity, greater probability and high gravity violation.  Sounds like something that should go on the company’s permanent records, ESPECIALLY since a worker lost his life in the situation.

So, back to my original question: looking at the screenshot for the citaitons and penalty associated with the investigation of  Mr. Rosaulino Montano’s death, it looks like the company agreed to pay a $2,500 penalty in exchange for having the violation deleted?  OSHA Underground, OSHA Above Ground, am I understanding that correctly?

Better yet, because not everyone is on one-on-one blogging terms with OSHA Underground and OSHA Above Ground, a simple solution would be explanatory legend for this OSHA’s Establishment data.  It would really help the public interpret the data that OSHA makes available to us, and understand better how the agency’s enforcement system really works.

Comments

  1. #1 Abel
    July 20, 2009

    Celeste,

    When a violation is deleted, it is deleted and the company pays no penalty. If the violation had been changed to “unclassified” then the company would pay whatever penalty was negotiated. In this case, it looks like the company payed nothing.

    “NrInstances:1″ refers to how many locations/times the hazard has existed. The easiest example is machine guarding. If a woodworking shop had 8 chop saws in use, but only 2 are guarded, then there are 6 instances.

    “NrExposed:3″ is the number of employees exposed or potentially exposed to the hazard. I’m not familiar with this case, but if the employees were on a scaffold, then “NrExposed” means every employee who had been on the scaffold, and not necessarily just those who were on at the time of the accident.

    You are correct about the the gravity.

    I don’t know what REC means here.

    It’s worth pointing out that the data system we’re using pre-dates my joining the agency, and I’ve been here over 20 years. Theoretically, the new system will bring significant improvements, although we’ve been promised a new system for 10 years now.

  2. #2 Celeste Monforton
    July 20, 2009

    Abel,
    Thanks so much for your quick response. Very helpful. I figured this “deleted” item was different than an “unclassified” violation. Thanks for clearing that up.

    How would anyone looking at this screenshot (or the info directly from OSHA’s Establishment Search Page” know that the citation and penalty were deleted? (I think the answer is “they wouldn’t”)

    Would I be able to confirm the deletion of the violation and penalty be getting a copy of the informal settlement? Would that document also tell me the rationale for deleting them?

  3. #3 Abel
    July 20, 2009

    Celeste,

    People would know the citation and penalty were deleted if they knew what to look for (as you noted in the main post, there is no guidance).

    The search results page is the page with the basic company information which is before the violation page that you screen-captured. On the search results page is the table “Violation Summary.” For Engineered Construction Products that page says “Deleted” before violation 1.

    The table just above that is “Violation Summary,” which shows the penalties. Because the line for current penalty is blank, it means there is no penalty.

    If you FOIA the informal settlement, it should have the AD’s rationale documented.

  4. #4 Celeste Monforton
    July 20, 2009

    Abel,
    Thanks again for this helpful info.