Sunday, March 28, 2004

More Hanford Problems: DOE, Contractors Can't Get Injury/Illness Story Straight

Federal OSHA never fails to answer criticism againt the agency by boasting that injury and illness numbers have been falling steadily for several years. This may be good news, but is it accurate news. With the reports we hear of workers being encouraged not to report injuries, or being carted into work with broken limbs so that they aren't recorded as a "day away from work," can we believe the numbers.

Now we find that even the federal government is lying about workers injured on the job. The Washington Post reports today that:
The Department of Energy has failed to keep accurate count of worker injuries at nuclear waste cleanup sites across the United States, and its records often downplay the dangers of cleanup work, according to a draft audit by the department's inspector general
Not only that, but
The inspector general's investigation also found instances in which major cleanup contractors were not required by the department to report any information on how many workers were hurt or sickened while working around nuclear waste. It found that the department also fails to record a significant number of workplace injuries that contractors themselves have documented.

The most serious example was at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, where the main contractor, Bechtel, reported 463 days lost to injury. The Department of Energy's database listed 166 days.
The Department of Energy and its contractors at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State came under attack earlier this month for covering up work-related injuries and illnesses arising from exposure to toxic vapors.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) accuses the federal government of creating incentives for underreporting
Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has said he will not tolerate any contractor behavior that endangers workers. But critics of the Energy Department say that the Bush administration, as part of its push for an "accelerated cleanup" of nuclear waste sites, has created financial incentives for contractors to cut corners on safety and underreport workplace injuries.

In many cases, those incentives involve extra cash for companies that work fast. CH2M Hill, for instance, can earn a bonus of as much as $2 million for each waste tank it empties by 2006.

The system also penalizes contractors -- by taking away as much as 10 percent of contract fees that in many cases run into the billions of dollars -- if they report too many workplace injuries.