First a few of the basic stat’s from the BLS: There were 4,551 workplace fatalities in 2009 (the latest year for which data are available), continuing an encouraging downward trend over the past several years. Those of you who are aware there were approximately 14,000 worker fatalities in 1969, the year before OSHA was created, can appreciate the vast drop in the raw number of fatalities, especially when you consider the worker population in the US was much larger in 2009 than in 1969.
No doubt the efforts of the fine folks at OSHA have greatly contributed to the drop. But we also must give credit to other influential factors, including; the decline of the industrial work base here in the US, the increased use of automation in the workplace, improvements in equipment and medical technology, the realities of controlling workers comp costs, the fear of lawsuits, and last but not least, the horrible economic recession of recent years.
But it was the following details that were buried in the report that really surprised me.
Did you know that 985 of the worker fatalities (21.64%) in 2009 are attributed to Highway Accidents (these fatalities include vehicle occupants resulting from traffic incidents on public roadways, shoulders, or surrounding areas)? And that 805 of the fatalities (17.69%) were attributed to Assaults and Violent Acts (542 were homicides, 263 were suicides)? That means that nearly 40% of all workplace fatalities (just those two categories combined) were due to an event or exposure for which OSHA has no specific safety standards!
Sure, you could argue the general duty clause has been cited by OSHA against employers in a few workplace violence cases, and OSHA has also issued a bulletin on distracted driving. But my point is there are no specific OSHA regulations in place to protect against the specific hazards that caused a very substantial portion of the worker fatalities.
And here is one more statistic of interest I found in the report: Self-employed individuals (a category that includes self-employed workers and most business owners), who are specifically excluded from coverage of the OSH Act (and therefore OSHA regulations), accounted for almost 23.4% of all fatalities (1,063) in 2009! Should Congress amend the OSHA Act to cover these folks? Would that further impact workplace safety?
I am not trying to berate OSHA, nor am I suggesting they are becoming obsolete; without them the number of workplace fatalities would most probably rise, and with them we can continue to whittle down the overall number workplace fatalities. But without some meaningful additions to their safety standards in these areas, it appears that OSHA’s central role in helping achieve everyone’s goal of “Zero Fatalities” in the workplace is greatly diminished. It also reinforces the fact that we in the safety community need to redouble our efforts to address these unregulated hazards where we can.
What have you done to address workplace violence? Or driver safety? I know these topics do not affect all of us, but I’m interested to hear what has been done with success at your (or your client’s) sites, or what you think should be done, and if that includes employee training.
Please share your efforts and ideas by submitting a comment (link below). And please, pass a link to this blog along to others in your network who can benefit from this information.