Yearning for the footnotes: OSHA report on amputations, severe injuries

OSHA issued a report last week summarizing the agency’s first year of experience with its new severe injury reporting rule. During 2015, employers from 25 states reported to OSHA more than 7,600 incidents in which workers required overnight (or longer) hospitalizations, and suffered nearly 2,650 work-related amputations. The numbers themselves are striking, but something’s more astonishing: before last year, employers weren’t required to report these serious incidents to OSHA. This change may be the biggest overall advance in occupational health and safety in decades.

Without this regulation, OSHA didn’t know, where, when or even how many amputations or hospitalizations occurred in workplaces last year. Many of the employers involved would not have had an encounter previously with OSHA. They are in industries, such as grocery stores, which are not typically subject to OSHA inspections. Now, these employers are experiencing some sort of intervention because OSHA was notified about their serious injury incident.  For example, 58 percent of the amputation incidents reported to OSHA under this new regulation resulted in an OSHA inspection. The agency's report notes that most of the hospitalization incidents and the remainder of the amputations did not compel an inspection. Rather, OSHA asked the companies to conduct their own investigation and report back to the agency with their fix.

Whether the encounter is an inspection or not, all of the cases are experiencing some sort of OSHA encounter. That's an important way for the agency to remain relevant and to use its expertise at workplaces that need it.

I appreciate OSHA’s report on one year of results under its serious injury reporting regulation. The report is a good thing, but it has me craving more information. Why? Because the document is peppered with examples of actual cases:

  • At a food processing facility in Georgia, OSHA staff "...could barely keep up with the reports... within six weeks, one worker lost a finger, another lost a hand, and a third was hospitalized with burns and lacerations."

What's missing? A footnote with the name and address of the company.

Here's another:

  • "A manufacturer tried to conceal an entire production line from OSHA inspectors after a staffing agency reported the amputation of a worker’s finger. When inspectors arrived, the employer closed interior doors and parked forklifts in front of them, then turned off the lights and told workers to be quiet."

I want OSHA to disclose the names of these firms. There are some bad actors out there and local communities, customers, potential employees, and the public do not need to be shielded from reality.

It’s not enough for OSHA to explain that some of the companies took care of the problem and promised to do better. Disclose the company names in your report, and post the information on line. Let the public help keep tabs on the firms.


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