Study: OSHA Regulations Effective in Preventing Fatalities

During an 11-year period in which OSHA revised the construction safety standard related to trenching and excavation, trenching fatalities dropped by 66 percent. Proving, says a group of researchers, that OSHA regulations and enforcement are effective and necessary to decrease workplace injuries and fatalities.

Study authors Anthony Suruda, M.D., MPH, Brad Whitaker, MSPH, Donald Bloswick, Ph.D., PE, Peter Philips, Ph.D., Richard Seserk, MPH, Ph.D., from the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational & Environmental Health, examined fatal injuries from trench cave-ins in the construction industry for five-year periods before and after the revision to the OSHA standard (1926 Subpart P - Excavations), which took effect on Jan. 2, 1990.

"This study provides evidence for the effectiveness that a targeted inspection program, along with revision of a previous ambiguous consensus standard, is effective in reducing fatal workplace injury," wrote the authors.

The authors, who published their results in the October Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that for the 11-year period from 1984 to 1995, there were 522 fatalities from trench cave-ins. The number declined from 67 in 1984 to 23 in 1995, a 66 percent decrease. That decrease was substantially greater than the 27 percent decline in fatal injuries from all other causes investigated by OSHA in the construction industry over the same time period.

Researchers also noted that in the five years before the revision of the standard 1984 to 1989 was 13.5 per million workers per year. When they compared that figure with the five years after issuance of the revised standard 1990 to 1995 they found a rate of 6.8 per million workers per year, a decline of 50 percent.

The decline was somewhat greater for large construction firms but was found in construction firms of all sizes. The fatality rate from trench cave-in in union construction workers was approximately half that of nonunion workers, but researchers were unable to determine whether this was best explained by union status, employment of union workers at larger construction firms, or both.

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