Last year, a law went into effect requiring employers to report severe injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Now, with one year of reporting wrapped up, OSHA’s analysis of the program reveals how many manufacturers fix safety problems — while others opt to conceal them.
The reporting requirement kicked in Jan. 1, 2015, and it mandates that employers report any work-related hospitalization, amputation or eye loss within 24 hours of the incident.
During its first year, the regulation brought in about 10,000 new reports of injuries, including 7,636 hospitalizations and 2,644 amputations. The manufacturing sector accounted for the majority of amputations (57 percent) and was also the biggest contributor to hospitalizations, but not by as wide of a margin (26 percent). The construction industry had the second most injury reports.
With all of these new reports flowing into OSHA, the regulation hasn’t only encouraged better safety standards, it’s also given OSHA a wealth of eye-opening data about how employers handle severe on-the-job injuries.
Some Cover It Up
The dark side of the report was that it revealed the lengths some employers take to conceal horrific incidents.
According to the report:
In one stunning example, 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. Inspectors who uncovered the back room found a row of machinery with exposed parts that could have caused other workers to lose their fingers.
OSHA also noted that it estimates that 50 percent of severe injuries were not reported during 2015 — an estimation based on factors such as injury reports from states’ workplace compensation reports.
The lack of reporting might have been from smaller to mid-sized companies that were simply unaware of the new requirements. However, other non-reporting incidents might have come from employers’ attempts to conceal accidents because they think the costs of not reporting could be minimal. But, when employers are caught covering up injuries, OSHA’s fines increase. Penalties for not reporting can range from $1,000 to $7,000 and are likely to grow more once higher citation levels approved by Congress take effect.
Others Employers Boosted Safety Protocols
As with most situations, the cost of prevention is always cheaper than the cost of cleanup. In this case, that often means fall protection or installing guardrails by dangerous machinery.
But when safety protocols failed, OSHA found that many manufacturers handled incidents much more commendably.
OSHA noted one case when a worker was cleaning a roller on a conveyer belt when it kicked into gear, pulled her arm in and mangled it badly. After the accident, the employer installed metal guards to shield other workers hands and warning lights and alarms that give workers a 20-second heads-up before the conveyer starts moving again.
Detailing another story with a positive outcome, OSHA reported:
At a wastewater treatment facility in Illinois, a worker was overcome with heat exhaustion and hospitalized. The employer immediately instituted more frequent employee breaks with water provided, and within weeks had installed cooling fans and submitted plans for a new ventilation system to control worker exposure to excessive heat.
In most cases of severe injuries (62 percent), OSHA reported that it didn’t send inspectors to the site, but instead allowed employers to conduct their own investigations and make recommendations for safety improvements.
Moving forward, OSHA says it plans to continue evaluating the program for its effectiveness and will work on making sure more employers know that they must report these kinds of injuries.
But, after just one year, OSHA seems optimistic that the program is encouraging better safety standards in a range of workplaces, from manufacturing plants to oil and gas operations, retail settings and more.