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Safety 2012: OSHA’s Continuing Mission

June 4, 2012
Bolstered by recent studies that indicate OSHA inspections, and corporations’ subsequent emphasis on safety, actual save companies money, OSHA Administrator David Michaels told a packed room at Safety 2012 in Denver that OSHA “levels the playing field” for responsible employers who are investing in safety and must compete with companies that are cutting costs by compromising worker safety.

“Employers who don’t make the investment look at workers as replaceable cogs,” said Michaels.

While the rate of fatal workplace injuries continues to decrease, Michaels noted that:

  • More than 4,000 Americans die from workplace injuries every year.
  • Perhaps as many as 50,000 workers die from illnesses in which workplace exposures were a contributing factor.
  • There are more than 3 million cases of non-fatal workplace injuries and illnesses annually.
  • The annual cost of occupational injuries and illnesses totals more than $170 billion.
Michaels offered co
ncrete proof that OSHA inspections save lives. He referred to a March 8, 2011 incident in Mercer, Ohio, in which an OSHA inspector ordered workers out of an unshored trench and took a photo of the trench at 10 am. Five minutes later, at 10:05, the trench collapsed. A similar incident occurred in Auburn, Ala., on April 20, 2011.

When employers ignore OSHA standards, workers often are injured or killed. As an example, Michaels cited an incident in Cincinnati in June 2002. An employer, cited for several safety violations, continued to operate as usual. The site of an excavation caved in, entombing a worker. Eight hours later, his body was removed from the trench.

Safety saves lives, said Michaels, and also, “Safety pays. Safety does not just prevent injuries, it will save you money.”

He cited the recent Harvard Business School study that revealed that in the state of California, companies that were the target of random OSHA inspections experienced a 9.4 percent reduction in injuries, a 26 percent reduction in injury costs and saved about $355,000 (14 percent of the average annual payroll of the sample of employers). Two additional studies, of employers in Pennsylvania and Washington, recently came to similar conclusions.

He also cited the case of Alcoa, which under the leadership of Paul O’Neill, embraced safety as part of its culture. A good company producing a good product before O’Neill and his emphasis on safety at board and corporate meetings. Alcoa become an extremely profitable company. Coincidence? No way, said Michaels.

“If you embrace safety, you produce a better product,” he said.

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