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Justifying Reporting Rule, OSHA Chief Cites Wire Mesh

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels sees a final Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule on employer reporting of severe work-related injuries or fatalities significantly enhancing the agency’s ability to steer accident prevention.

“The data from these new reports will enable OSHA to better identify workplaces where workers are at the greatest risk and to target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources accordingly. This rule will help establish a new relationship between OSHA and employers whose employees have been seriously injured,” Dr. Michaels noted in a statement on a rule set for January 2015 implementation.

“We expect to be notified of many hospitalizations and amputations. We are not going to send an inspector to respond to every one of these. But, we will engage with the employers whose workers have been hurt. Right now, we are developing a process to determine which incidents to inspect and which to handle using other types of investigations and interventions.”

The rule applies behavioral economics to worker safety, Dr. Michaels explained. “When an employer notifies us of a severe injury among its workers, we will ask what caused the injury and what the employer intends to do to address the hazard and prevent future injuries. That employer will then be on notice that OSHA knows about that severe injury, and will have made the commitment to address the hazard. We believe that as a result of this interaction, that employer will be more likely to take the steps necessary to better protect the lives and limbs of their employees,” he continued.

“Reports of severe injuries and illnesses will all be on the OSHA website, providing employers, workers, researchers and the public more information about workplace safety and health, and steps that need to be taken to prevent future injuries. Since no employer wants their workplace to be known as unsafe, we believe that the possibility of public reporting of serious injuries will encourage or, in the behavioral economics term ‘nudge,’ employers to take steps to prevent injuries so they are not seen as unsafe places to work. If you had a choice of applying for a job at a workplace where a worker had recently lost a hand, versus one where no amputations had occurred, which would you choose?”

Regarding the rule’s revised reporting timelines, “Too often, we learn of a worker being killed or seriously injured, and when we inspect, learn that one or more workers have already suffered serious injuries at that establishment,” Dr. Michaels observed, referencing a fatality and two serious injuries at Jacksonville, Fla.-based welded wire reinforcement and prestressed concrete strand fabricator Wire Mesh Sales.

Investigating the death of a worker who was struck upon entering a large wire mesh machine to retrieve a fallen metal bar, OSHA inspectors concluded that a light curtain would have automatically disabled the machine prior to the employee entering a danger zone. They also learned of two prior incidents on the same piece of machinery, resulting in an amputation and a crushed forearm. In February 2014, OSHA proposed $700,000 in fines against Wire Mesh Sales.