Whitmore: OSHA Turns Blind Eye to Underreporting

Bob Whitmore, a Department of Labor expert for OSHA recordkeeping litigation since the mid-1980s, alleged the agency has been “turning its back” on verifying the accuracy of injury and illness records submitted by employers, and claims this has led to significant underreporting during the past 15 years.

Emphasizing that he was not speaking on the agency's behalf, Whitmore told Occupational Hazards that several companies in the steel, shipyard and poultry processing industries — hazardous workplaces by nature — have vastly underreported their injury and illness rates. He recalled that an AK steel mill in Kentucky submitted an OSHA 300 log in 2005 without one recordable injury, “not even one medical treatment case” for the entire year.

In an e-mail sent to Occupational Hazards, OSHA stated that Whitmore's point of view is only “an opinion that is neither based on nor supported by any sound analysis of relevant data.”

Four years ago, OSHA attempted a new tactic by including in its site-specific targeting (SST) program 400 employers that worked in “historically high-rate industries” and demonstrated exceptionally low rates. Whitmore said this was a first step in the right direction, but it was short-lived. For the first year, OSHA only was able to look at 39 out of the 400 employers, and the following year, reduced the number of companies to 200. That number has been dwindling ever since.

“Bottom line is that you have to look at the employers that give you the low rates. Instead of sending 14,000 employers letters that state they are going to be getting a visit from OSHA, I'd like to see 7,000 of them be the ones with the high rates and the other half with the low rates,” Whitmore explained. “If the low rates are real, you've found an industry leader to partner with, and if they aren't, you drop the hammer on them.”

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