Saturday, May 19, 2007

Taking a closer look

Why workplace injuries are shown to be declining ...

"According to official statistics from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of workplace injuries and illnesses in private industry declined in 2005 for the third consecutive year. BLS reported that nonfatal injuries and illnesses declined to 4.6 cases per 100 workers in 2005, compared to 4.8 cases per 100 workers in 2004. The rate of injuries and illness requiring days away from work also declined 4 percent in 2005, according to BLS.

“The announcement that workplace injuries and illnesses in 2005 were at an all-time low is more good news for America’s workers and reflects the department’s effective worker health and safety strategy,” declared Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. OSHA claims a 19 percent reduction in injury and illness rates since 2001.

Over the years, however, a growing number of voices have raised questions about whether these rosy announcements are “simply too good to be true.” The skeptics have pointed to exclusions in BLS-counted workplaces, continuing issuance of willful citations by OSHA against employers under-recording injuries, academic studies documenting massive undercounting by employers and a proliferation of corporate accounting scandals where “cooking the books” has occurred in many areas of business recordkeeping.

Accurate records of workplace injuries and illnesses are important because they are the essential starting point from which individual employers can identify high-hazard operations and develop appropriate controls. They also set government priorities for research, agency resources and enforcement actions.

Why Downplay?

There are powerful incentives for both government agencies and employers to downplay workplace injuries and illnesses. Declining injury rates can be highlighted as evidence of “success” of government efforts; at the same time, they can justify limited or no growth of government activity during a period of budget tightening.

Employers can benefit from lower reported injury and illness rates in reduced direct medical costs, lower workers’ compensation insurance premiums, use of a “clean safety record” in competitive bidding processes and avoidance of being targeted for high-hazard workplace inspections by state and federal OSHA. There are very real economic benefits to employers from underreporting."    (Continued via Occupational Hazards)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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