An OSHA official says his agency's resources are "strained," and that they are spending more time on accident investigation than accident prevention. What does that mean for the staffing industry? 

Due to new reporting requirements that took effect at the start of 2015, companies must now notify OSHA within 24 hours of any amputations, workers hospitalized overnight or loss of an eye.

Previously, employers only had to report all work-related fatalities and hospitalizations of three or more employees, according to the federal government agency.

Despite the reporting changes, Cincinnati Area OSHA Director Bill Wilkerson told the Cincinnati Journal-News funding and staffing levels haven’t changed. 

“We have been inundated,” he said.

Accident Prevention Work Is Waning

However, he added OSHA is not intended to only respond to accidents.

“It’s putting a strain on our resources and the ability to do a thorough investigation (when an accident occurs). We’re keeping up with it, but it’s tough.” 

By spending more time responding to accidents, OSHA is spending less time on planned inspections of companies with dangerous track records, educational programming or checking out employee-reported complaints according to the article. 

Wilkerson says there are government programs in place that are designed to improve safety measures such as reducing fall hazards. 

Enforcing those programs in the past would afford OSHA inspectors the chance to visit a business and review their safety practices. There is less time to do that now, Wilkerson said.

“I can only speak for the experience of this office…but I think we’re pretty typical. We’re finding it difficult to do these other types of investigations which are really designed to be more preventive.”

Historically, OSHA has relied on voluntary compliance for companies to correct safety hazards. Employers have an incentive to  keep accident and injury rates as low as possible for insurance purposes. 

Amputations and other serious accidents are calculated as part of a work site accident rate that can prompt an OSHA visit. 

Injury rates also impact a company’s workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

Safety Training Is Being Reduced

A younger and less experienced workforce, as well as a reduction in safety training may be responsible for the rise in workplace accidents and fatalities. 

“There may be just too little regard being paid to instructing people on safe work practices, having proper safety programs and procedures in place and making sure that people follow up on these things,” Wilkerson said.

He also added that you can’t always expect people to behave in the way you trained them.

An Ohio union official told the Journal-News companies are driving costs down, and workplace safety goes down with it.

"Where are they going to start cutting corners when you drive that low on costs? Safety’s one of the first things you can cut out,” said Matt Von Stein, president and membership development director of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 648.  

What Can Staffing Companies Do?

Staffing Talk contributor Scott Morefield of @Work Personnel Services says staffing pros should ask for the OSHA log from any potential client or customer as part of your workplace safety due diligence process

"The first red flag should pop up if they can’t produce the log, or certainly if they ask what an OSHA log is. If that happens you should stand up, politely say your goodbyes, then turn around and hightail it out of there."

Morefield opines that no staffing agency should ever send a worker to a workplace they haven't actually visited themselves. 

"Why would you ever consider sending someone to a work site where you have absolutely zero control over YOUR employee’s duties, yet all of the responsibility when something goes wrong? We aren’t safety experts, to be sure, but walking through a facility can tell us a lot, especially once we have a few walkthroughs under our belt.

What To Look For 

  • Is it clean and orderly? 
  • Is there an emphasis on safety? 
  • Are the workers wearing PPE? 
  • Do they seem happy? 
  • What tasks will your employees perform? 
  • What do other temps at the plant do versus full-time employees? 
  • Do the jobs look dangerous, and if so, how do they ensure workers are safe? 
  • Will temps receive the same safety training as full-time employees?

"If you don’t do the walkthrough, you are flying completely blind," says Morefield. "Not only will you not be aware of the kinds of dangers your people could face, but your staffers won’t be able to properly describe the job to prospects."

Tags: Staffing Talk, Scott Morefield, David Gee, OSHA, Workplace safety, Safety training, Accident rates, Workplace fatalities