The audit, which covered the years 2002 and 2003, was part of a legal settlement the company agreed to last year when OSHA fined Weyerhaeuser $77,000 for failing to record 38 injuries and illnesses at its Buckhannon, W.Va., plant. OSHA's enforcement action, which is now closed, began after the Buckhannon site applied to join the agency's prestigious Voluntary Protection Program.
Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. conducted the audit and reviewed a total of 251 incidents that led to workers' compensation claims at the 16 plants in 2002 or 2003. Auditors discovered recording errors in 45 percent of these cases; some of the errors involved improper recording of incidents.
"I share your view that the error rate found in the audit of the 16 Trus Joist facilities is cause for concern and we will conduct additional follow-up," wrote Sara Kendall, Weyerhaeuser's vice president of environment, health and safety in an April 25 letter to OSHA's regional administrator Richard Soltin.
Kendall's letter, the results of the audit and other supporting documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request sent to OSHA.
Weyerhaeuser and Shaw did not respond to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment on the audit results.
OSHA Official: Weyerhaeuser Fixing Recordkeeping Problems
Stanley Elliott, the area director of OSHA's Charleston, W.Va., office, explained in an interview that the agency now believes Weyerhaeuser is fixing the recordkeeping problems at its Trus Joist subsidiary.
"Absolutely," replied Elliott when asked if OSHA was concerned about the Trus Joist audit results. But Elliott said OSHA has investigated many Weyerhaeuser sites and found recordkeeping there to be "totally acceptable."
Kendall's letter to OSHA outlined four steps the company would take to improve recordkeeping:
- Improved information flow between workers compensation claims managers and those responsible for the OSHA logs;
- Increased governance by Weyerhaeuser's corporate safety and health group;
- Continued audits by an outside firm, using the audit protocol developed for the Trus Joist facilities; and
- Improved training and minimum competency requirements for personnel maintaining OSHA 300 logs.
Elliott confirmed that the agency was satisfied with this response.
"If Weyerhaeuser is doing at Trus Joist what they're doing at their own sites, there should not be a problem," said Eliott.
Former Employees: Workers Pay High Price for Complaints
OSHA originally learned of the 38 unrecorded injuries at Buckhannon through an employee complaint, and Eliott said he assumes that if recordkeeping and safety problems continue, employees would complain again.
But anyone who complains to company officials or OSHA may have to pay a very high price for speaking out, according to former employees of Trus Joist. Weyerhaeuser has made management changes at Trus Joist in recent months, and it is not clear if it has altered the implementation of its stated business conduct policy, which prohibits retaliation in such cases.
However, former Trus Joist employees say the company has in the recent past dealt harshly with those who raise safety concerns.
"Employees who complain to OSHA about recordkeeping or safety issues should be prepared to have their career status changed, and could even lose their job," said one former employee, who requested anonymity because of continuing concerns about actions the company could take.