OSHA’s Data-Driven Enforcement

OSHA ReflectionOSHA is trying to stretch its enforcement budget by targeting industry inspections and investigations.  One change is a focus on fewer inspections (OSHA does about 40,000 a year now) and more in-depth inspections.  At the same time, OSHA changed its Severe Injury Reporting Program to require companies to report all hospitalizations, amputations and loss of eye injuries. All told, OSHA is adopting a data-driven approach to its work.

Need proof? Read this report from the agency on a new focus on Nebraska’s meat processing industry.   OSHA says “7.5 percent of meat processing workers experienced recordable injuries or illness in 2014.”   That is a pretty shocking statistic.   OSHA plans to address it with a combination of stepped up enforcement and education.

Companies need to realize that safety enforcement is becoming more and more of a numbers game.  Industries with a lot of  incidents will be under a magnifying glass and the agency is getting better and better at producing the numbers to back its approach.  One of its chief tools is the change in Severe Injury Reporting.  Each OSHA region took the reported injuries for its area and drilled into the statistics.  It gave them a window into the day to day incidents that used to only show up when companies did their annual reporting.  First, the agency was surprised at the volume of amputations that occur in the workplace – 2,644 amputations last year, more than seven a day.  Here’s the breakdown that OSHA’s head gave at a recent conference:  57% of the amputations were at manufacturers and 10% of amputations were at construction sites.   According to at least one OSHA official, the statistics raised awareness of an amputation problem at grocery stores.
OSHA will continue to refine its process and to open the door to increase scrutiny of smaller employers with larger-than-average incidents.  In recent Congressional testimony agency officials asked for the authority to target inspections of small companies with PSM-covered processes and the potential for catastrophic incidents. Current legislation limits OSHA’s ability to inspect businesses with 10 or fewer employees in industries that have lower-than-average injury and illness rates.

Data-mining has clearly come to OSHA and it is changing the way it oversees safety in America.

Pressure Builds For Pipeline Safety

pipelineThe pipeline industry is being buffeted by calls for increased safety from a number of directions.  The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has taken a number of steps to reduce pipeline incidents, but Congressional pressure to do more is growing and frustration with both the agency and the industry is obvious.

The last two weeks have seen a flurry of Congressional hearings and bills aimed at increasing pipeline safety.  K&L Gates law firm did a very good recap of the bills and the general mood of Congress concerning pipelines.  Anyone in the pipeline business needs to keep up on this issue because it is likely to result in broad changes in the way the industry approaches safety.

For PHMSA’s part, the agency has already made a number of changes, the most visible one being that it has doubled the size of its pipeline safety program and hired nearly 100 new field operatives to keep an eye on pipeline projects.  The agency has also launched a reorganization, called PHMSA 2021, designed to help it adapt to changes.   One other measure is that it has worked with industry to create a safety management program.  Right now the safety management system is voluntary.  the head of PHMSA testified before Congress that, “PHMSA fully supports the implementation of RP 1173 and plans to promote industry-wide conformance to this voluntary standard…Moving forward, PHMSA will leverage the powerful working relationships we have with states and other stakeholders to encourage the widespread adoption of SMS.”

A word of caution to industry – we have seen the “voluntary” safety management approach play out before.  If industry doesn’t start using it “voluntarily,” regulations generally follow.

Why the big push?  For one thing, pipeline safety statistics appear to be stuck in place.  Here is PHMSA’s overview of incident in the last 20 years:

pipeline incidents

It doesn’t show the type of progressive reduction that other industries have seen in the past few years.  One note on this – the statistics do not seem to have been normalized to reflect increased construction or maintenance activities.  On the other hand, the pipeline infrastructure is aging and that can boost incidents.

However, two very important drivers are public outcry over some very high-profile pipeline and, most recently, storage incidents and the future growth of natural gas.   The first driver, public outcry, is guaranteed to get the politicians on their soap boxes.   However, it is the second one that has the experts in government looking to the future.   The country is embracing natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil.  The transportation system needs to be able to ensure that all that gas gets to its destination safely.

New OSHA Target: Midwest Manufacturers

OSHA has a new focus areaosha_logo_pub for targeted inspections – Manufacturing industries in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska (OSHA Region 7).   The safety agency has what it calls regional emphasis programs that identify industries with injury and illness rates that are above national averages.

When OSHA adds an industry to its regional emphasis program, companies in that industry are more likely to receive inspections and those inspections tend to be much more detailed.  One of the main criteria OSHA uses in placing an industry on the emphasis program is its Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART) rate.  The national DART rate for private industry is 3.3.  The other criteria is what is called serious violation rate per inspection (SVPI).

Five Things Companies Should To to Prepare for OSHA

  1. Aggressive Occupational Health Management – Research has shown that one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce OSHA recordables, like DART, and lower workers comp costs is to help workers stay healthy.  That means strength and functional assessments on the front end to make sure workers aren’t assigned duties that exacerbate pre-existing conditions.  It also means that, if there is an incident, the company helps get workers the right treatment at the right time.  Many incidents are mis-characterized as OSHA recordables because the worker was not given the right level of treatment immediately after the incident occurs.   Lifeline Strategies is working with one of the leaders in integrated occupational health, CORE Health Networks.
  2. Safety Program Management – Start by looking at your overall safety and training, because that is the first thing OSHA will look at.   Many companies that think they have safety programs really just have a bunch of policies gathering dust on the shelf.   Make sure your program is up-to-date and addresses the actual risks that workers face on the job.
  3. Communicate and Train to Your Safety Program – Safety programs are useless if the workers who need to rely on them don’t understand them and follow them every day.  OSHA has realized that and is increasingly looking at management commitment and worker engagement on safety.
  4. Prep For OSHA Inspections – Some companies with great safety records can look very bad in an OSHA inspection if they don’t know what to expect.  Make sure safety professionals and management know what takes place during an OSHA inspection, what inspectors will want to see and management’s responsibilities under the law.  It may be worth holding a surprise inspection drill.
  5. Understand Changing OSHA Requirements – The rules on what needs to be reported, when and how to follow-up have changed and will change again in the next few months.  Companies that didn’t know about the changes or ignored them have been hit with thousands of dollars of fines.

If you need help with any of these recommendations, contact us at info@lifelinestrategies.com.

According to its criteria, OSHA will target the following industries in those states:

For DART rates

  • food
  • nonmetallic mineral products
  • fabricated metal products
  • machinery
  • computer and electronic products
  • furniture and related products (337).

For SVPI data

  • beverage and tobacco products
  • wood products
  • printing and related support
  • primary metal
  • miscellaneous


Safety Ethics: Space Shuttle Challenger

shuttle (2)Safety professionals are called upon to make tough choices.  They are usually successful in arguing their case.  Sometimes they are not.  A recent pair of stories on NPR highlighted the cost of taking a stand.  They looked at an engineer who warned NASA that it was too dangerous to launch the space shuttle Challenger.  His warning was overruled and, 30 years later, he still feels guilty that he wasn’t able to stop the liftoff:

You can find the first story here.

The second story just aired today.  The first report received so much response that the journalist went back and talked to the engineer again.

That story is here.

They both should be required listening for anyone looking to go into the safety profession.