Snookered by OSHA’s Weekly Fatality Report Site

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?

Comments

  1. #1 bioephemera
    May 26, 2010

    Very thought provoking post. I too was interested when OSHA started doing this, and I wonder what the answers to your questions about the implementation are. BTW, Frank Swain has also blogged about this; the points you make change the interpretation of the Twitter feed he set up based on OSHA’s data.

  2. #2 Tasha Chapman
    May 27, 2010

    Hi Celeste,

    I had a couple thoughts while reading through your experiences with the OSHA fat/cat data. :) First, the fact that OSHA is not providing the information as quickly and as easily as you might have anticipated may not be the result of a conscious decision to backtrack on their previous promises. I would guess it is more of a technical issue than anything. I believe OSHA had planned to have their new data system in place by this October, and last I heard this may not be the case. The fat/cat page may be more of a casualty of other projects not moving along as quickly as OSHA had hoped… Just a thought…

    Second, if you had things your way, what kind of Fat/Cat information would you like to see available? I can’t do anything about the federal page, but any thoughts you have might give us some ideas for how to present things here in Oregon…

    Tasha

  3. #3 Dina J. Padilla
    May 29, 2010

    In the early 2000’s, the DOL had on the job injuries and deaths listed accordingly by year that disappeared not to long there after President Bush was elected.
    In Ca. not all injuries are reported to CAL-OSHA and the ones that are, are not all reported on CAL-OSHA’s website going back in to the 1980’s.
    CAL-OSHA was called to kaiser in Sacramento, Ca. many times in the early 90’s. 7 work related suicides and one on the job murder is not mentioned. Many bio hazards, RSI’s and many other kaiser job related injuries were not reported even though Cal-Osha had received CALLS ON A REGULAR BASIS.
    Both Cal-OSHA or Fed OSHA fall far too short in complete records of injuries or deaths.
    Who stopped this agency TO complete necessary reporting IN the bio tech labs WHICH are the latest of not reporting all injuries or NOW people exposed to toxic brownfields like in Downey Ca. which are public health dangers to all.
    I want to know why these safety protection agencies are not doing its job.
    ALL OSHA’ INCLUDING NIOSH need to PROTECT ALL WORKERS. That’s the way America is supposed to function for it’s workers.
    biotechawareness,com
    kaiserpapers.org
    ACHEMMIC.com
    Veteran-For-Change.org

  4. #4 Celeste Monforton
    May 29, 2010

    Tasha,
    OR-OSHA should be commended for the quality and organization of the fatality/serious injury info it already has on its site: http://www.orosha.org/standards/fatals/ I can tell OR-OSHA staff give thought to what would make sense for the public looking at the site. Just one example is how OR-OSHA provides annual fatality data by BOTH fiscal year and calendar year, recognizing that although federal OSHA operates on a fiscal year (Oct 1-Sept 30) most of us don’t look for data in that way. This simple thing shows that OR-OSHA staff try to put themselves in the shoes of people outside the agency. Good job.

    Just one suggestion off the top of my head at the moment would be a way to examine one of these reports
    http://www.orosha.org/standards/fatals/pdf/descriptions/acc_fatal_cal-yr08.pdf and easily determine whether the incident was investigated by OR-OSHA, if violations were issued, the penalty amount, and the disposition of the investigation (closed, in litigation, settled, whatever.)

    Tasha, thanks as always for your thoughtful comments.
    Celeste

  5. #5 John B. Boyd
    May 31, 2010

    What skews the correlation of fatalities to workplace causes, particularly when reliance upon the states reporting of data, is the three decades of contraction of coverage in states’ workers’ compensation laws. The course of scientific knowledge is ever-expanding, allowing for a growth in understanding of the links between work-place risks and diseases. Yet the shrinking of the gate-keeping access to workers’ compensation coverage is causing a wider disparity between the real numbers of workplace deaths which may never be known, and, that which is reported. Ideally, with the changes of direction of the Obama administration, renewed scrutiny of the states’ workers’ compensation laws will bring about an improved accuracy in gauging the true cost of occupational injuries and diseases.

  6. #6 Celeste Monforton
    May 31, 2010

    Mr. Boyd,
    Do you have some information that the Obama Administration has any plans to scrutinize state workers’ compensation laws and how they are administered? I’ve not heard about that and would like to hear what’ve you know.

    Celeste

  7. #7 John Boyd
    May 31, 2010

    Celeste: There are measures pending in Congress which may become a vehicle for this scrutiny. Cost transference to Social Security and Medicare has been studied. At a Fall 2009 conference sponsored by the SS Administration and NASI, analysis was released illustrating that in those states with poor comp benefits, there was a higher usage of Medicare and SSDIB. The better the comp system, the lower usage of social disability programs was a supported conclusion.

    Efforts led by progressive organizations have seen the introduction and some movement of proposed legislation calling for a repeat of the 1972 National Commission to study the states’ systems; an examination of the increased cost shifting to the taxpayer from industry; and, possible committee hearings on these as well as other elements of comp systems (such as the reliability of using the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment as a means of determining compensation.)

  8. #8 Tasha Chapman
    June 1, 2010

    Thanks for your suggestions. I appreciate it and I’ll keep them in mind in the future. :)

    While I’m at it, I’d also like to suggest another tool that we have available… Here at the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, we are the parent agency for not only Oregon OSHA but also the Oregon Workers’ Compensation Division (as well as a myriad of other divisions. I technically work for a central services division that provides research and technical support for the whole agency). In addition, we also cover the BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). Needless to say, we keep many different fatality counts, because it all depends on who’s counting workplace deaths…

    In any case, we have an extensive set of reports available for fatalities accepted for Oregon Workers’ Compensation: http://www4.cbs.state.or.us/ex/imd/external/reports/index.cfm?fuseaction=dir&ItemID=1992#Fatality

    One of the most interesting is our application which provides descriptions of the compensable fatalities. It’s an interactive report that let’s the user choose certain types of fatal injuries based on industry, cause of fatality, location of fatality, and other factors. I’ve found it to be most useful for safety managers who are looking for examples of fatal accidents:
    http://www4.cbs.state.or.us/ex/imd/reports/rpt/index.cfm?ProgID=CC8136

  9. #9 OSHA 10 and 30
    June 4, 2010

    It would set inward place a national plan for the carbon pollution reducing and replace state and regional programs, fitting in to the source, who’s familiar with the legislation being outlined.

Current ye@r *