Monday, June 28, 2004

Industry: Blind Eye For The Injured Guy (or Gal)

In 1999, OSHA implemented its "Site Specific Targeting Program" that targeted inspections at workplaces with high injury and illness rates.Inside OSHA (subscription only) reports that industry is planning to propose alternative methods for OSHA's targeting system.

The problem?

The current system, based on recordable injuries illnesses, picks up too many ergonomics injuries.
"The formula tends to show sprains and strains rather than severe injuries in workplaces," an industry source says. "Those injuries usually fall under the musculoskeletal disorder category and there is not complete science to back those injuries up."

The source cited nursing homes as an example of an industry that is highly targeted for inspections but does not actually generate a high number of severe injuries
Of course, that all depends on what your definition of "severe" is. I've met more than a few nurses who can no longer work, who can no longer lift their children and can no longer live a pain-free life who would characterize their injuries as "severe."

That there are few severe injuries in nursing homes would also come as news to OSHA director John Henshaw who has stated that Nursing home workers have 2 1/2 times as many injuries and illnesses as private sector workers. And over half of those injuries are from overexertion and other ergonomic problems.

And as we all know, ergonomics citations under George Bush's OSHA are bringing the nursing home industry to its knees. In fact, according to OSHA's webpage, there have been a grand total of eight (8) federal OSHA citations against nursing homes during the entire 3 1/2 years of the Bush administration. And the grand total of all of the penalties? $10,550.

("Uh, Could you repeat that?" "Well, sure, I'd be glad to.")

Yes, $10,550 for all 8. That's an average of $1,319 per citation. In other words the grand total of all of the penalties for every ergonomics violation cited by federal OSHA during the entire Bush administration comes to far less than the cost of one (1) single surgery caused by a back injury.

OSHA is already shortchanging nursing homes. Nursing homes with high injury and illness numbers dominated OSHA's targeting list to such an extent that the agency recently announced that it would only inspect half of them.

Clearly there's a problem here, but it's not that the nursing home industry "does not actually generate a high number of severe injuries," but rather that the industry does not actually generate a high number of serious citations.

In other words, we seeing the failure of OSHA's COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO ERGONOMICS. It is, in fact nothing but crap: A total of 14 total citations by federal OSHA and two guidance documents in 3 1/2 years. The highest of the 14 was $6300 to Supervalue, while the average penalty was just over $2,500, hardly a figure that can be expected to strike fear into the hearts of employers whose workers are suffering one-third of all workplace injuries and illnesses every year.

The industry's solution seems to think that back injuries are all make-believe (or perhaps just a result of tennis and golf games that nurses are so fond of after work every day.) Stop paying so much attention to them and they'll go away.

Welcome to bizarro world.