Saturday, April 02, 2005

Chili and Missing Digits

The news reports of a fast-food customer’s discovery of a severed human finger in their bowl of Wendy’s chili led many of us to react with “E-gads!” “Gross!”... or worse. The ever-interesting Paul Revere of Effect Measure wrote on March 25 about this incident in a post called “Menu Tip: Meatpacking is Dangerous Work.” A loyal Confined Space reader, who, shall we say, has seen first-hand the extent of OSHA’s interest in accurate recordkeeping, reacted thoughtfully to the Chili ala fingertip story, noting its value as a controlled experiment (granted, n=1) to assess the efficacy of OSHA’s recordkeeping rule (Part 1904).

Unless this is some sick person’s idea of a practical joke, it’s hard to imagine any scenario in which the fingertip does not belong to a worker. OSHA’s recordkeeping rule is supposed to ensure that if someone is injured on the job and requires more than first aid, the employer will record information about the injury on the OSHA 300 Log. But in this case, investigators have been looking high-and-low for the owner of the displaced finger, with no success. They have been asking employers about entries on their OSHA 300 Logs, including inquiries to all the Wendy’s restaurants in the area, the suppliers of beans, meat, and other Chili fixin' ingredients, but they can’t find any company that will admit to a recent finger-losing incident.

This true tale says many things about the state of workers’ safety and health in the US, including that our injury and illness recording system is a JOKE. A serious injury occurred at a workplace---a finger was severed and became part of some unsuspecting person’s lunch---but it apparently isn’t recorded on any company’s log. The fact that these injuries occur thousands of times each day in the US is bad enough, but that we have no reliable system for recording them, and apparently less and less interest in enforcing the system we have, is a disgrace. Somewhere in Louisville, OSHA's former Asst Secretary John Henshaw’s mouth may still be on autopilot bragging about the “triple bottom line” of reducing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Given that we have no system at all for tracking occupational illnesses, and that the fine for concealing an employee’s injury is currently running at about 0.1% of the fine for uttering a “dirty word” on the radio, shouldn’t that be “triple bottom LIE?”