GAO Criticizes Workplace Injury Oversight Program
It is uncertain whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's consultation program for overseeing small businesses -- which have a much higher rate of workplace-related deaths than large businesses -- has succeeded in reducing job-related injuries and illnesses, according to a report from the General Accounting Office released earlier this month. The Wall Street Journal reports that the goal of the consultation program, which allows small businesses to request an OSHA visit to "look for workplace hazards without fear of being cited for violations as a result of that visit," is to "boost voluntary compliance with safety regulations." Funding for the program increased 50% between fiscal 1996 and fiscal 2001, to $48.8 million -- about 11% of the agency's overall budget. The report found, however, that the program "doesn't collect the right information" to assess whether it has helped to decrease work-related injuries. For instance, while the program, which is run by state agencies and universities, asks employers about injury and illness statistics before a consultation is conducted, OSHA has been "hesitant to collect the same data for the period following the consultation," concerned that seeking such information might be a "hassle for employers to collect" or beyond the agency's "authority." In addition, the report also found that while funding for the consultation program has increased over the past five years, in 12 states, the number of visits to employers and the number of workplace hazards identified decreased. Paula White, who runs the consultation program, conceded that "[o]utcome results are very difficult to get" but defended the program's effectiveness. "We are removing risks from workplaces," she said (Bailey, Wall Street Journal, 10/30). The complete GAO report is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0260.pdf. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to download the report.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.