OSHA Regulations Can be Good for Workers’ Health
Research published in Science sheds light on a hot-button political issue: the role and effectiveness of government regulation. Does it kill jobs or protect the public?
The new study, co-authored by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Toffel; Professor David Levine of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley; and Boston University doctoral student Matthew Johnson, examines workplace safety inspections conducted by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). The authors carried out the first evaluation of a clinical trial of the state’s mandated randomized inspections to discern their effect on both worker safety and companies’ bottom lines.
The results overturn conventional wisdom: Workplace inspections do reduce on-the-job injuries and their associated costs, and the researchers could not detect any harm to companies’ performance or profits.
“The randomized inspections provided a perfect natural experiment that uses the power of randomization just like a medical clinical trial,” Toffel said. “Because Cal/OSHA typically inspects facilities following complaints or recent accidents, you can’t study those inspections to get an unbiased understanding of whether they make a difference. By studying the inspections Cal/OSHA conducted at workplaces selected at random, we were able to overcome this problem to learn the actual impact of inspections.”
The study found that within high-hazard industries in California, inspected workplaces reduced their injury claims by 9.4% and saved 26% on workers’ compensation costs in the four years following the inspection, compared to a similar set of uninspected workplaces. On average, inspected firms saved an estimated $355,000 in injury claims and compensation for paid lost work over that period. What’s more, there was no discernible impact on the companies’ profits.
“We spent several years collecting data, not just on injuries, which is very important, but also on other indicators to see whether inspections led to problems they are often accused of causing—like whether they increased costs and led to the elimination of jobs. We looked at company survival, employment, sales and total payroll to see if inspections were detrimental to the employers,” said Levine.
“Across the numerous outcomes we looked at, we never saw any evidence of inspections causing harm,” Toffel explained. “If OSHA inspections conducted in all 50 states are as valuable as the ones we studied, inspections improve safety worth roughly $6 billion to employers and employees, ignoring pain and suffering. The overall message of our research is that these inspections worked pretty much the way one would hope. They improved safety, and they didn’t cost firms enough that we could detect it.”
In future work, the research team hopes to better understand which subsets of firms benefit most from inspections and whether the inspections yield benefits in other domains such as improved compliance with environmental regulations.
Beyond workplace safety, the authors believe that randomized trials could be used widely throughout government and business to evaluate new policies, from environmental regulations to educational programs.
“More trials like this would help us find out where regulations work and where they don’t,” Toffel said. “Because the cost of regulations is very real, governments should be investing constantly to learn how to make them as effective and efficient as possible.”
Additional information about the study:
- The cost savings applied to both small (less than $2000) and large (more than $2000) workers’ compensation claims, and the reduced injuries and cost savings lasted for at least four years after the inspection. These findings suggest the inspections had a lasting, across-the-board effect.
- Many previous studies attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of inspections have suffered from the biased way inspection sites are chosen (by complaints or previous accidents) and from problems with how the effects of the injuries are tracked (typically via OSHA logs, which tend to become more comprehensive after an inspection). The new study addressed both of these issues, because companies were selected at random, and because the injuries were measured by workers’ compensation claims and other data gathered from sources independent of OSHA-mandated records.
- A 1993 California mandate requiring Cal/OSHA to conduct some of its workplace inspections at random provided the opportunity for the study. The mandate was not designed to evaluate inspections, but rather to improve compliance by including random inspections in addition to those initiated by complaints or problems. The randomized inspections examined in this study were carried out from 1996–2006. For each site chosen for a randomized inspection, the team identified a similar control firm eligible for a random inspection but not chosen.
- Processing the information took a considerable amount of time—five years—because the researchers had to extract the Cal/OSHA data from a magnetic tape format the researchers had never encountered, and then match the inspected companies’ names and addresses to separate databases containing workers’ compensation and employment information.
How to Prepare for OSHA’s Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication Standard (GHS)
OSHA has issued a final rule revising its Hazard Communication Standard, aligning it with the United Nations’ globally harmonized system (GHS) for the classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals. This means that virtually every product label, MSDS (called “safety data sheet” or SDS under the new standard), and written hazard communication plan must be revised to meet the new standard. Worker training must be updated so that workers can recognize and understand the symbols and pictograms on the new labels as well as the new hazard statements and precautions on SDSs.
Environmental Resource Center is offering webcast training for you to learn how the new rule differs from current requirements, how to implement the changes, and when the changes must be implemented. Register for an upcoming webcast on How to Prepare for OSHA’s Globally Harmonized Hazard Communication Standard (GHS) offered on the following dates:
- June 26
- July 18
- August 15
- October 2
How to Author GHS Safety Data Sheets
OSHA has adopted the new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for the classification and labeling of hazardous chemicals. A cornerstone of GHS is the adoption of a completely revised Safety Data Sheet (SDS). In Environmental Resource Center’s new, How to Author GHS Safety Data Sheets webcast, you will learn the differences between the MSDS and SDS, how to author SDSs that meet the latest OSHA standards, how to classify your products according to the 28 GHS hazard classes and 88 categories, what must be entered in each section of the SDS, essential references you can use to locate data for each section of the SDS, and how to handle trade secrets.
To learn what you must do to meet the new SDS requirements, register for an upcoming How to Author GHS Safety Data Sheets webcast offered on the following dates:
How to Label Hazardous Chemicals Using OSHA’s New GHS Hazcom Standard
Workplace and supplier hazard communication labels are being reinvented with OSHA’s adoption of the new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for labeling hazardous chemicals. In a new, interactive Environmental Resource Center webcast, How to Label Hazardous Chemicals Using OSHA’s New GHS Hazcom Standard, you will learn the difference between workplace and supplier labels; what signal words, hazard statements, precautionary statements, and pictograms must be on your labels; essential references you can use to locate required label information; and how to label products with existing HMIS, NFPA, DOT, and CPSC labels.
The How to Label Hazardous Chemicals Using OSHA’s New GHS Hazcom Standard webcast will be offered on the following dates:
Orlando RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in Orlando, Florida, from May 30–June 1 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
Baltimore RCRA, DOT, and IATA/IMO Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in Baltimore, Maryland, from June 5–7 and save $100. Transportation of Dangerous Goods: Compliance with IATA and IMO Regulations will be offered in Baltimore on June 8. To take advantage of the discount offer for the Baltimore RCRA and DOT combination, or to register for any of the Baltimore training courses, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
Baton Rouge RCRA and DOT Training
Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course (RCRA) and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, from June 12–14 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 1-800-537-2372.
OSHA to Establish Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee
OSHA has announced its intent to establish a Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee. The committee will advise, consult with, and make recommendations to the Secretary of Labor and the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health on ways to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of OSHA’s administration of whistleblower protections.
“Workers who expose securities and financial fraud, adulterated foods, air, and water pollution, or workplace safety hazards have a legal right to speak out without fear of retaliation, and the laws that protect these whistleblowers also protect the health, safety and well-being of all Americans,” said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “Establishing a federal advisory committee is another important effort to strengthen protections for whistleblowers.”
In particular, the committee will advise OSHA on the development and implementation of improved customer service models, enhancements in the investigative, and enforcement process, training, and regulations governing OSHA investigations. In addition, it will advise OSHA in cooperative activities with other federal agencies that are responsible for areas covered by the whistleblower protection statutes enforced by OSHA.
“This new Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee will help our agency sustain an open dialogue with stakeholders and experts, and will promote the transparency and accountability that are the cornerstone of this administration,” added Michaels.
OSHA enforces the whistleblower provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and 20 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various workplace, airline, commercial motor carrier, consumer product, environmental, financial reform, food safety, health care reform, nuclear, pipeline, public transportation agency, railroad, maritime, and securities laws.
Under these various whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program. Detailed information on employer whistleblower rights, including fact sheets, is available online at the newly revamped http://www.whistleblowers.gov.
Raani Corp. Fails to Provide Emergency Care, Worker Dies from Chemical Burns
OSHA has cited Raani Corp., for failing to seek emergency medical treatment after a worker incurred chemical burns at the Bedford Park, Illinois, manufacturing plant on November 17. The worker died from his injuries on December 8. The company has been cited with 14 safety violations, including six willful violations. Proposed penalties total $473,000.
OSHA received a referral from the medical examiner indicating that a worker had died from burn injuries caused by high-temperature water and a solution that erupted while the worker was beneath an open tank hatch. An investigation determined that the company failed to call 911 to seek emergency medical treatment and neglected to wash the worker in the available safety shower. The worker was transferred to a local occupational health clinic in a co-worker’s vehicle more than 30 minutes after the injury.
Six willful violations have been cited for failing to utilize available emergency care; provide, require, and train workers on the proper use of protective clothing; provide eye, face, and hand protection when handling high-temperature liquid and hazardous chemicals; and failing to provide hazard communication training to workers exposed to hazardous chemicals. Generally, workers were found wearing medical-grade latex gloves, which are not insulated or sufficient when using high-temperature liquids or the majority of chemicals used at the site. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing, or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
Additionally, seven serious safety violations involve failing to perform a personal protective equipment assessment; correct an improperly guarded platform; provide visible quick drenching facilities within the immediate work area; train about the usage of powered industrial vehicles; enclose live parts of electrical equipment; use proper safety precautions when transferring flammable liquids; and not maintaining dry, clean floors. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
One other-than-serious violation was cited for failing to report the fatality to OSHA. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
Due to the willful nature of some of the violations, OSHA has placed Raani Corp., in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. The program focuses on recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations.
Raani Corp., a manufacturer of health-care items, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, and household and salon products, employs 150 workers, of which nearly half are temporary day workers. The company was previously inspected by OSHA in 1993, resulting in five serious violations.
Vivid Image Inc. Cited with 12 Violations, including Lack of Respiratory Protection after Worker Dies from Chemical Exposure
OSHA has cited Vivid Image Inc., with 12 safety violations—including two willful—after one worker died and another was hospitalized from exposure to the chemical toluene at the Theresa, Wisconsin, manufacturing plant on November 29. Proposed penalties total $64,600.
Two willful violations involved workers not wearing respiratory protection while working with the chemical toluene in an unventilated area, and for exposure to toluene beyond the peak level of 500 ppm.
OSHA guidelines limit peak toluene exposure to ten minutes per single time period for any eight-hour shift, with a time weighted average exposure of 200 ppm. Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid used in a variety of industries and is a common solvent for products such as paints, thinners, and glues. Vivid Image specializes in coating production and micro screens.
Additionally, ten serious safety and health violations include a failure to reasonably evaluate toluene air concentrations; shut off the ventilation system and block the exhaust duct while applying screen coating material containing toluene; disallow ignition sources inside the coating room where flammable material was mixed and applied; develop and implement a written hazard communication program; provide worker training on physical and health hazards of coating material; properly storing flammable liquids; provide guarding on a table saw; prevent exposed electrical wires using extension cords instead of permanent wiring; and provide fork truck training.
Due to the willful nature of some of the violations, OSHA has placed Vivid Image in its SVEP.
Vivid Image employs three workers.
Manufacturer Pays $600,000 Following 2011 Explosion
The Department of Labor (DOL) has secured a settlement agreement with Bostik Inc., a Middleton, Massachusetts-based adhesives manufacturer, to resolve litigation stemming from citations issued by OSHA for safety violations following a March 2011 explosion.
OSHA cited Bostik in September after a six-month investigation found numerous violations of the agency’s process safety management (PSM) standard, which is a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively address hazards associated with processes and equipment involving large amounts of hazardous chemicals. In this case, the chemical was acetone, which was used in a PSM standard-covered process known as direct solvation.
According to the settlement, Bostik has taken and continues to take corrective action to address deficiencies in its PSM program and enhance the program’s effectiveness, and also agrees to submit proof of abatement to OSHA. Bostik paid a fine of $600,000 and is no longer using the direct solvation process at the Middleton facility. OSHA originally proposed $917,000 in fines.
Plastico Products Cited for 28 Violations after Worker Suffers Amputation
OSHA has cited Plastico Products LLC, with 28 safety and health violations, including two willful violations. OSHA’s inspection was prompted by an incident in which a worker’s fingertips were amputated at the company’s Irvington, New Jersey, facility.
The willful violations involve failing to develop, use, and document energy control, or lockout/tagout procedures; ensure that employees are not exposed to unguarded moving parts; and prevent employees from placing their hands in machines’ points of operation. The citations carry $84,000 in penalties. Due to the willful violations cited, the company has been added to OSHA’s SVEP.
Twenty-three serious violations involve failing to address electrical hazards; guard moving parts; have a sufficient lockout/tagout program for the energy sources of equipment; implement a hazard communication program; provide hearing, respiratory, eye, and hand protection; install handrails; ensure that emergency exit doors are visible; mount accessible portable fire extinguishers; and train employees on the use of compressed air cleaners. The citations carry $72,000 in penalties.
Three other-than-serious violations involve failing to record injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 log, train the operators of powered industrial trucks, and label electrical panels. The citations carry $600 in penalties.
Western Extrusions Corp. Fined $212,000 for Variety of Safety and Health Hazards
OSHA has cited Western Extrusions Corp., with two willful and 13 serious violations for exposing workers to a variety of safety and health hazards at its aluminum products manufacturing facility in Carrollton, Texas. OSHA’s Dallas Area Office initiated an inspection November 7 at the company’s facility on Sandy Lake Road under the agency’s National Emphasis Program for Amputations. Proposed penalties total $212,000.
The willful violations involve failing to implement lockout/tagout procedures for machines’ energy sources to protect workers performing maintenance and setup activities, and provide guarding on press brakes.
The serious violations include failing to guard open-sided floors and platforms; provide personal protective equipment; properly label hazardous chemicals; ensure that isolation and de-energization procedures are followed; remove damaged synthetic web slings from service; provide guards around rotating and moving parts of machinery; establish die-setting procedures for mechanical power presses, guard chains, and sprockets; provide hepatitis B vaccinations to workers; and provide training on bloodborne pathogens.
Due to the willful violations and the nature of the hazards, OSHA has placed Western Extrusions Corp., in its SVEP.
Western Extrusions employs about 900 workers.
DiGioia-Suburban Excavating Cited for Allowing Workers to Ride in Excavator Buckets
OSHA has cited North Royalton, Ohio-based DiGioia-Suburban Excavating for two willful safety violations after discovering that workers were allowed to ride inside an excavator bucket to access a trench at a Bowling Green, Ohio, job site on November 17, 2011. A complaint prompted OSHA’s inspection of the site, where six workers were digging a trench to replace existing sanitary lines. Proposed fines total $123,750.
The willful violations include failing to prohibit workers from riding the excavator bucket to access the trench as well as provide a safe means of egress from the trench.
Detailed information on trenching and excavation hazards is available at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/index.html.
Prior to this case, DiGioia-Suburban Excavating had undergone 15 inspections since 1989 and been cited for 46 violations. In the past, the company also has been mandated by OSHA to increase and document self-inspection efforts.
Rite Aid Cited for Fall, Crushing, Exit and Electrical Hazards
OSHA has cited Rite Aid of New York Inc., for alleged repeat and serious safety violations at the retailer’s store in Brooklyn, New York. Rite Aid faces a total of $111,100 in proposed fines following an inspection by OSHA’s Manhattan Area Office.
Several hazards were found similar to those cited during inspections of Rite Aid stores in the Bronx and Rome, New York. The recurring violations included shelves and boxes stored that blocked and narrowed an emergency exit route, unsecure piles of boxes subject to collapse, and workers exposed to falls of up to ten feet with stacking boxes and totes on the unguarded edges of stairs. Three repeat citations totaled $104,500 in proposed penalties. A repeat violation exists when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule, or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years.
The inspection also resulted in two serious safety citations, with $6,600 in fines, for a locked exit and lights not protected from damage.
Home Depot Cited for Repeat and Serious Safety Hazards around Electrical Equipment
OSHA has cited Home Depot Inc., for alleged repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards at its store in Saratoga Springs, New York. The retailer faces a total of $51,480 in proposed fines following an inspection by OSHA’s Albany Area Office.
OSHA’s inspection found that the required working space around eight electrical equipment panels was used for storage, which consequently restricted employees’ access to circuit breakers in the event of an emergency. Due to the fact that Home Depot was cited by OSHA in 2010 and 2012 for similar hazards at its Keene, New Hampshire, and Vineland, New Jersey, stores, respectively, OSHA issued a citation with $44,000 in proposed fines for one repeat violation at the Saratoga Springs store.
Two serious violations involve missing breakers and uncovered openings in electric panels, as well as a lack of protective eyewear for an employee operating a saw. The citations carry $7,480 in penalties.
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