The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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OSHA Job Safety Record Initiative Implodes

Agency Quietly Pulls Plug on Touted Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program


Less than a year after unveiling it with fanfare, the Occupational
Safety & Health Administration has shelved the national effort to
strengthen industry tracking of on-the-job injuries and illnesses. The
program found widespread employer recordkeeping noncompliance but was
plagued by a poor design and anemic implementation, according to data
released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

On September 30, 2009, OSHA initiated its much anticipated
"Illness and Injury Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program" to "test
OSHA's ability to effectively target establishments to identify
under-recording of occupational injuries and illnesses." On August 4,
2010, OSHA released figures to PEER under a Freedom of Information Act
request summarizing what had been accomplished. One week later, OSHA
confirmed that it had suspended the recordkeeping program to re-adjust
"its targeting criteria".

During the 10 months the recordkeeping program was in effect
OSHA conducted only 142 inspections (OSHA figures claim 153 inspections
but PEER found 11 were double-counted) in a questionable pattern:

  • High-hazard industries such as refineries, pipelines,
    chemical plants, paper mills and drilling rigs were completely
    overlooked. Only one meatpacking plant was inspected and four poultry
    processing plants received brief compliance visits;
  • Small businesses were targeted. Only 1 in 5 inspected businesses had more than 100 workers; and
  • There were huge geographic gaps, with inspections in
    barely more than half the states. More than a third (35%) of all
    inspections took place in just one state, Oregon.

Despite this uneven effort, the inspections found OSHA
violations at 70% of the establishments and recordkeeping violations at
more than half (55%).

"If this is what happens when OSHA declares a national emphasis
then its business as usual posture must be scary," stated PEER Executive
Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that some of the current OSHA
leadership concede its Injury and Illness data are unreliable due to
systemic employer underreporting. "Without accurate recordkeeping, OSHA
will keep flying blind, alerted to problems only by the next fatality."

Last year, OSHA fired its top recordkeeping expert and chief
critic, Bob Whitmore, over an acerbic confrontation with agency
management. Whitmore testified before Congress that absurdly low injury
numbers give a false impression that OSHA is effective in reducing
worker morbidity. PEER is representing Whitmore in a whistleblower
challenge to his termination.

"Whichever OSHA managers designed this National Emphasis Program
should not be allowed near its successor," added Ruch, noting that OSHA
has issued press releases about large fines it has issued for
recordkeeping violations. "Isolated, splashy enforcement actions are no
substitute for a coherent national program that effectively induces
industry compliance."

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.