Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Shocking! OSHA Says Inspections Prevent Accidents

Reading speeches by OSHA officials is generally a deadly boring activity these days. Witness a speech at the National Maritime Safety Association by my old buddy, and current acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Steve Witt.

Page after page after page of coma-inducing verbiage about the strategic management plan, variations and permutations of partnerships and alliances (and more alliances and patnerships), and other voluntary programs, outreach (oops, did we forget to mention we're trying to eliminate OSHA's worker training grant program?) He even talks about OSHA's standards program (although the text didn't state whether it was done with a straight face.)

But hidden deep in the speech, for those who were still conscious, was a little nugget abou OSHA's Site Specific Targeting Program (SST). Under the SST program, OSHA sends letters to 14,000 sites in high hazard industries that have been determined to have higher than average injury and illness numbers The letter warns them that "their rates are significantly higher than average and suggests strategies for reducing injuries and illnesses among their workers." Several thousand of these are then inspected over the year.

And guess what? Turns out that actual inspections work better than warning letters.
A study in 2004 of Site Specific Targeting shows that it is making a difference. That evaluation, sponsored by the Department, found that companies that received our letter, but were not inspected, reduced injuries and illnesses about 5 percent over the three years following the letter. But the sites that were actually inspected had injury and illness declines ranging from 12 to 13.8 percent over the three years following our inspection.
This may seem obvious to most of you reading this, but for an administration that insists that voluntary programs and compliance assistance -- training, fact sheets, webpages, conferences -- are superior to the heavy hand of government inspection and enforcement, this is interesting stuff.

Maybe OSHA should take a look at its budget pie and start transferring more money from voluntary programs into enforcement, and maybe the White House and Congress should think seriously about significantly increasing OSHA's pie if they're serious about workplace safety.

If they're serious....