OSHA addresses high injury, illness rates with employer mailing

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration mailed letters this month to 14,000 workplaces with the highest occupational injury and illness rates urging them to take preventive action.

Employers, including some construction contractors, receiving the letters had a “days away from work, restricted work or transfer injury” (DART) rate of 6.5 workers injured or ill for every 100 full-time workers, as reported in a 2003 OSHA-conducted survey. The national average is 2.6.

Jonathan Snare, acting OSHA assistant secretary, said in the letter that a high DART rate could be costly to the employers’ company in both personal and financial terms. He also said employers with high rates of injury or illness aren’t necessarily lacking interest in safety, but should seek advice to reduce the rate.

One method OSHA suggests is its state-specific, on-site consultation program. This program is operated separately from OSHA’s enforcement branch, and is free to employers with 250 employees or fewer.

The consultation program helps identify hazards in the workplace and find cost-effective solutions for controlling or eliminating those situations with help from an OSHA employee.

Anita Drummond, director of legal and regulatory affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors of America, said the safety agency’s on-site service has been useful for many contractors because it goes beyond the enforcement program’s capabilities.

“It [OSHA] doesn’t keep pace with the number of worksites,” Drummond said. She said the large number of worksites – more than 700,000 in the latest U.S. census count – far exceed OSHA’s limited inspection resources, which numbered only 39,167 employees in 2004.

Drummond said ABC recommends a focused inspection that looks for things contributing to the “big four” hazards: falls, falls from an object, being crushed between two objects and electrical mishaps.

In addition to the free consultation program, OSHA also recommends employers listen to employees as a source for identifying hazards and finding solutions. Private consultants, insurance carriers or state workers’ compensation agencies are other possible avenues the agency recommends for improving safety.

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Justin Crandol, senior director of safety and health services for the Associated General Contractors of America, said employers have the ultimate responsibly of providing a safe workplace. “The concept that they identify the companies at risk is a nice gesture by OSHA,” he said.

Crandol said contractors should promote a pro-active, rather than reactive, approach to safety issues.

A copy of the letter OSHA mailed to high-DART-rate employers and a list of the 14,000 companies are available on the agency’s website.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].