Study Finds Making Reports for Minor Incidents Increases Safety
In a study conducted by the Rand Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace, preventing minor accidents in the workplace—and reporting on those that do occur—can help to reduce fatalities. The organization compared states and their levels of reporting non-fatal accidents and found that where reporting of such incidents lagged, the number of fatalities was much higher than in states with higher numbers of reported injuries but much lower fatality rates. Researchers estimate that states with tougher reporting requirements for injuries created an incentive for safer workplaces.
For example, Alabama had the highest death rate at nearly seven for every 25,000 full-time equivalents. Its reporting of less serious accidents was extremely low, due In part to the fact that worker's compensation payments don't begin until an Alabama worker has been off work for seven days. Workers may find there is less incentive to report accidents.
Another finding from the researchers at Rand is that when inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration find safety violations that result in fines, the injury rate for that company tends to be lower for the next two years. "After you get inspected, there's a pretty strong incentive to comply," said John Mendeloff, director of the Rand Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He said fines can be assessed daily for non-compliance with safety regulations. The fines may not be the key. Other studies have shown that even if the fines are huge, they are not as much of a deterrent as just having a whole raft of inspectors, because more onerous than a fine is the threat of getting caught.
So what else can be done? Providing safety training can improve safety records, but it is often overlooked. Mendeloff said one of the realizations he has had about safety is that the problem with OSHA regulations is they are hazard specific instead of process oriented. While OSHA can regulate that a certain machine has a certain guard, he said, the most effective equipment is personal safety equipment that workers have to wear and which also serve as a reminder of the hazards of the job.