Washington, DC — 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 (PEER).
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.”