The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is charged with protecting workers from unsafe conditions at the workplace. One way they do this is by conducting inspections, but the agency does not have the resources to inspect all companies. Some have expressed worries following the Texas fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 workers. The last inspection at the plant was 28 years ago.
OSHA employs roughly 2,200 inspectors who are responsible for the safety of 130 million workers. The agency completes approximately 40,000 inspections each year, but at this rate, many facilities do not undergo regular inspection until after a workplace injury or fatality.
The agency prioritizes inspections based on the industry. Less dangerous industries and smaller employers with fewer than 10 employees may never be inspected.
Following an inspection, the agency may fine a company for any violations and order the problems fixed. In Wisconsin, a recent inspection at Universal Industries LLC in Tomahawk found eight safety violations and prompted the agency to fine the employer $61,600.
The employer failed to provide various safety programs designed toward long-term worker health, such as a hearing conservation and hazard communication programs. In addition, the employer failed to protect workers from fall hazards on an unguarded platform. Several of the violations had been previously noted by the agency, but were never remedied.
Frequency of workplace injuries and illnesses
According to recent commentary in the New York Times, every 2.5 seconds a worker suffers a workplace injury and every 8 minutes a U.S. worker dies while on the job from work injuries or illnesses. While large disasters receive the most attention, these tragedies commonly occur out of the public eye and affect a small number of workers.
For instance, more workers die in trench collapses and falls each year than chemical explosions. In each case, safety measures exist to prevent these types of events from occurring.
Construction accounted for almost 20 percent on workplace fatalities in 2011, according to the agency. Top causes of death or injury in the field include:
- Falling from heights - this can occur when fall protection gear is not provided
- Electrocution - when no policy exists to manage energy risks
- Getting struck by an object - including a motor vehicle
- Trapped in or between - crush-type injuries, such as during a trench collapse
Tying in with the above types of injuries, some of the most common types of violations related to scaffolding, fall protection and ladders. Another violation similar to that discovered at the Wisconsin workplace is a lack of a hazard communication standard.
For those who suffer a work injury, there are often workers' compensation benefits available. Wage loss benefits come into play for a temporary injury, while the worker is recovering. Some injuries are more serious and may lead to permanent disability.
After a workplace injury, contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney to discuss your individual circumstances. In some cases, an insurer may delay payment or deny a claim. An attorney can assist to make sure medical bills are covered and you receive all available benefits.