Is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failing American workers? Are workplace safety standards actually decreasing? Are more workers suffering personal injury or death due to fewer inspections? These are important questions.
Recently, A Congressman wrote the Secretary of Labor to address his concerns with declining workplace safety. Here are a couple facts about the rising rates of serious injury that concerned the Congressman:
Over 5,000 people died from workplace injuries in 2016, a 7% increase from the prior year.
Almost 2.9 million workers reported a serous occupational injury in 2016.
After handling work-related accident and injury cases for over two decades in Alabama, I can tell you these statistics are probably far lower than the true numbers. Why? Many accidents, injuries and deaths are NEVER reported to OSHA. The true number of deaths and injuries is probably much, much higher. While injury and death rates are increasing, the inspection and enforcement activities of OSHA are actually decreasing. In my opinion, the two are related. Here are a couple facts about the decreasing ability of OSHA to keep American workers safe:
The duration, depth and complexity of OSHA safety inspections has declined (at an accelerating pace) over the last few years.
The number of OSHA inspectors has actually decreased in recent years (Just from January 2017 to January 2018, the Agency saw a decline of 50 inspectors.).
To put it into perspective, OSHA only has enough inspectors to inspect workplaces every 158 years! OSHA inspectors are necessary to identify potential hazards, investigate complaints and enforce safety standards. Yet, the current Administration will not properly fund or equip OSHA to perform its important safety tasks. How can we expect OSHA to protect our workplaces when we have not provided the necessary resources?
In his letter, the Congressman asks the Secretary of Labor several essential questions about the direction of OSHA. Will the current Secretary of Labor commit to protecting the safety of American workers? What direction will our leaders take?
A former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA, Jordan Barab, now writes a well-known worker safety blog titled Confined Space. In December 2017 he wrote about the dangerous impact of reductions at OSHA by the current Administration. According to Barab:
Because when it comes to workplace safety, cutting the bureaucracy means undermining enforcement, protection for whistleblowers, support for vulnerable workers and help for small businesses. Some of OSHA’s regional staff state that because of the hiring freeze, OSHA’s enforcement and whistleblower programs are ‘falling apart at the seams.’ The agency is ‘just bleeding.’
Want to take a deeper dive into the impact a fully-funded OSHA could have on workplace safety? In a later article, Barab again discussed rising workplace injury rates. Specifically, Barab noted the increased number of workplace injuries in 2016. Than, Barab looked deeper into the data by industry sector. Where OSHA had focused its decreased resources (such as manufacturing and mining), the number of injuries had actually decreased. In other sectors where OSHA had not focused its limited resources, the number of injuries had increased. As we know, overall injuries did increase significantly. What’s the message? OSHA inspections and enforcements do protect our workers.
Workplace safety is an essential issue for everyone. As a society, we bear a huge cost for needless workplace injuries and deaths. The safety of our citizens is an issue that should never be compromised.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we specialize in helping people who have suffered a serious personal injury. From our office in Huntsville, we represent injured clients across Alabama. Outside of court, we believe in advocating for highway safety, worker safety and consumer product safety. If you have legal questions, we are happy to discuss the issues with you. Consultations are always free and confidential.