Jonathan L. Snare, acting assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, says that the letter was sent to raise employers’ awareness of the problem and let them know the federal agency can offer assistance in making their businesses safer. It’s not necessarily a precursor to a visit from the agency, OSHA said in a news release.
To identify who would get the letter, OSHA examined data from a 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of 80,000 work sites. The survey was conducted in 2004 and looked at injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2003. Some of the occupations with high rates of fatal injuries include logging and aircraft jobs. Jobs with high overall numbers of fatal injuries include truck driving, farming/ranching and construction.
Organizations targeted for the OSHA letter had 6.5 or more injuries or illnesses resulting in days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer for every 100 full-time workers. The national average during is about 2.6 injuries or illnesses.
The lengthy list of the businesses with these high injury rates is available in a “zip file.” It does not include employers in the 21 states and one territory (Puerto Rico) that operate OSHA-approved state plans.
David Galt, a safety expert with Business & Legal Reports Inc., says OSHA’s letter is part of a general trend in the U.S. government, regardless of the political party in the White House, to take a less heavy-handed approach to enforcement. According to Galt, government regulators have said, “We’ve got to move to voluntary compliance on the part of business because government just can’t handle the workload. OSHA doesn’t have all the staff to inspect everybody.”
Paula Brantner, program director for the San Francisco-based nonprofit Workplace Fairness, which advocates for employee rights, agrees that OSHA is moving away from enforcement activity and is more focused on voluntary compliance. “This is all well and good if it happens,” she says, “but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that voluntary compliance is happening. Sometimes it takes a real threat of enforcement to see the real changes we need, and we’re just not seeing it.”
Brantner agrees with Galt that the government is sometimes stretched thin. But even in times of tight budgets, she says, “There’s still a message from the top that they’re either going to be really strict on violators or they’re going to turn a blind eye and handle things really mildly.” The latter message, she says, is getting through.
A copy of OSHA’s letter is below.
Name of Employer
Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) surveyed employers to identify the workplaces with the highest Days Away from work, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) rates. Your establishment was one of those identified as having a DART rate higher than most other businesses in this country.
I am writing you to alert you to this fact, and to offer ways that you can obtain assistance in addressing safety and health hazards in your workplace. OSHA recognizes that your elevated DART rate does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in safety and health. Whatever the cause, a high rate is costly to your company in both personal and financial terms.
Over the years OSHA has found that many employers need additional expertise in the field of workplace safety and health, and welcome assistance by other experts in this field. An excellent way for small business employers with 250 or fewer workers to address safety and health in their workplaces is to ask for assistance from OSHA's onsite consultation program. This program is administered by a state agency and operated separately from OSHA's enforcement program.
The service is free to small businesses and confidential. Since it is not associated with enforcement, citations and penalties cannot be issued. Designed for small employers, the onsite consultation program can help you identify hazards in your workplace and find effective and economical solutions for eliminating or controlling those hazards. In addition, the OSHA state consultant can assist you in developing and implementing a safety and health management system for your workplace.
In your state, the OSHA onsite consultation program may be contacted at: (Name/address/phone number varied here)
Often your employees can also be a source for identifying hazards and finding solutions. In addition, private consultants, your insurance carrier, or state's workers' compensation agency might be a source of onsite assistance. We encourage you to consider these suggestions as well as visit OSHA's home page at www.osha.gov for information to ensure safe and healthful working conditions in your establishment. Just like last year, a list of all the employers receiving this letter will be available from the OSHA Web site on the Freedom of Information Act page.
Jonathan L. Snare
Acting Assistant Secretary