In a blog post seven months ago, I gave federal OSHA credit for placing worker fatality information front-and-center on its homepage. The sobering feature deserving kudos was the scrolling list of fatal-injury incidents in which men and women died recently at US workplaces.
I remarked that the change by OSHA was a good start, and that I considered it a work in progress. It seemed that OSHA did as well. The first few weekly entries (here, here, here, here) did not include work-related fatalities reported to OSHA State Plan states. Federal OSHA indicated that some State Plans “elected not to report,” a remark that perplexed and troubled me. I quickly learned from an astute reader (the Administrator of the Oregon State Program) of a possible reason for the missing State data. He wrote:
“Before you get too hard on the collected state programs . .. ‘Elected not to report’ is a bit strong for some of us in state programs. To tell the truth, I wasn’t clear on what we were being asked [by federal OSHA] to report (and why federal OSHA didn’t simply pull the data from the federally funded and maintained system, which I believe we all feed). So the lack of state data is probably more an issue of growing pains with a new system than it is of a conscious decision not to provide federal OSHA with the data.”
I accepted that as a reasonable explanation, and by the “Weekly Report ending September 4, 2009,” data on work-related deaths in the State Plan states began to appear. A couple of months later, OSHA began offering this data in a new format, with a weekly and to-date (by fiscal year) fatality total. Good progress, I thought. Not only is the new leadership in OSHA taking steps to make this data accessible, someone is giving a bit of thought to how it should be presented for public use. I thought it was a solid improvement, but I was most interested, with the teaser that introduced the table. It suggested this data would be enhanced for users in two ways.
Teaser #1: OSHA noted that these initial weekly reports contained event numbers, but once the accident investigation commences, the activity is assigned an inspection number. [Without the inspection number, I have a heck of a time trying to use OSHA's Inspection Data search tool to track the status of each fatality investigation case. If you don't know the EXACT way that the company name was keypunched into OSHA's data system, you can try all different variations of a company name and still not find the right case. Is it U.S. Steel? U S Steel? US Steel? USSteel? USStell??? If you don't guess right, you're out of luck getting the data.] As OSHA itself notes in big bold letters about this search tool:
THE USER SHOULD ALSO BE AWARE THAT DIFFERENT COMPANIES MAY HAVE SIMILAR NAMES AND CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE ADDRESS MAY BE NECESSARY TO AVOID MISINTERPRETATION.
I was psyched by the prospect of having a plain old inspection number to use in the search tool; no more wasted time doing the Establishment Search guessing game. Just today, however, I realize that I assumed that OSHA would proceed to update these Directorate of Enforcement Program’s (DEP) “Weekly Fatality/Catastrophe Report” entries with the inspection number. The OSHA site had indicated:
All incidents are assigned an event number (OSHA-36 Form) by OSHA’s local Area Office. Subsequent inspections by OSHA are assigned an inspection number (OSHA-170 Form).
My assumption was, I guess, just wishful thinking. I thought that because they mentioned the “event number” and how it replaced by the “inspection number,” and without the inspection number, OSHA’s on-line inspection search tool is
hopeless, useless, a time-waster, I’ve accepted the fact that these DEP “Weekly Fatality/Catastrophe Report” are not being updated with the inspection numbers. Sigh. In fact, some of the most recent ones don’t even have the event numbers.
Teaser #2: The second OSHA teaser that now disappoints me first appeared on this site in early August 2009. The narrative preceding the data summary suggested that these weekly reports would be revised with information from federal OSHA’s or the States’ investigations of the worker death.
“After OSHA’s investigation is complete, these reports will be updated with inspection results and citation information.”
Knowing that the OSH Act provides no more than six months for the agency to issue citations and propose penalties, I knew I’d have to wait a few months before I’d see data associated with each fatality case. But, to my surprise, by early November 2009, OSHA was promising even more, enhancing the teaser with this new language:
“This table contains the weekly summaries of fatalities and catastrophes resulting in the hospitalization of three or more workers. … The summaries below include only preliminary information, as reported to OSHA Area Offices or to States which operate OSHA-approved State Plans. … OSHA will link the data on this page to the inspection case file, also on the OSHA public website.”
OSHA will link the data on this page to the inspection case file, also on the OSHA public website. Really?? OSHA’s saying it would provide something that’s even a fraction of what MSHA offers for the fatality cases it investigates? I thought, this is huge: OSHA providing much more access to its records on fatality investigation cases. OSHA says it will:
“Link the data on this page to the inspection case file.” I’m waiting….
“Link the data on this page to the inspection case file.” I’m waiting…
“Link the data on this page to the inspection case file.” I’m waiting…
For seven months now, I’ve been checking this OSHA Fat/Cat site just waiting to see this change: the data link from the Weekly Report of Fatalities to the inspection case file. There’s no such link, no such data.
Today, I decided to retrace my steps and figure out why or how I was led to believe that OSHA would be posting its investigation findings on this site. Did I misinterpret what I’d read? Did I assume erroneously again? Was it just wishful thinking?
I don’t think so. The introduction to the most recent weekly Fat/Cat report also suggests that these reports will be updated. It reads:
This table contains the weekly summaries of fatalities and catastrophes resulting in the hospitalization of three or more workers. … The summaries below include only preliminary information, as reported to OSHA Area Offices or to States which operate OSHA-approved State Plans. The fatalities listed here include only those that initially appear to be work-related, but exclude fatalities that do not appear to be work-related, such as an apparent heart attack of a sedentary worker. …After OSHA’s investigation is complete, these reports will be updated with inspection results and citation information.
I notice it no longer says, as it did November:
OSHA will link the data on this page to the inspection case file, also on the OSHA public website.
It now simply says:”After OSHA’s investigation is complete, these reports will be updated with inspection results and citation information.”
I wonder if this is official backtracking by OSHA?? I noticed that over the 41 weeks that these reports have appeared on OSHA’s website, the introduction to each report has been changed five times. Somebody is writing this text and has gone back-and-forth making promises about the data the public can expect. Granted, OSHA never mentioned when the promised data would be posted, but somebody did strongly suggest that case-specific records on fatality cases would be forthcoming.
Does anyone know why we shouldn’t feel snookered or shnookered by OSHA?