Thursday, September 23, 2010

Research: Safety Inspections and Injury Reduction

A new study in the Journal of Safety Research examines the impact of workplace inspections on injury rates. Confirming earlier research, this study finds that inspections that result in penalties affect injury rates, both those related to the inspections and those not related.

"What kind of injuries for OSHA inspections prevent?" estimates of the impact of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalty inspections in Pennsylvannia manufacturing firms with 20 to 250 employees between 1998 and 2005 on injury rates. More simply, if the government penalizes a firm for a safety violation, how does it affect the firm's subsequent injury rate?

The results indicate that inspections with penalties result in significant reductions in injury rates. The study found 4.1% annual reduction in the pooled injury rate of those injury causes that are more closely related to OSHA standards. Interestingly, there also appears to be a spill over effect with a 7.2% annual reduction in the pooled injury rate of those injury causes that are less closely related to OSHA standards. This suggests that firms respond to penalties by pulling up their safety socks in many areas as well as addressing the specific deficiencies noted by the inspection.

The conclusion that inspections with penalties make workplace safer is consistent with the broader literature. For example, Tompa et al.'s 2007 meta analysis examined how experience rating, inspections and inspections with penalties affect injury rates. Their conclusion are compelling:

"There was moderate evidence that the degree of experience rating reduces injuries, limited to mixed evidence that inspections offer general and specific deterrence and that citations and penalties aid general deterrence, and strong evidence that actual citations and penalties reduce injuries."

This raises the question of why Alberta continues to focus so much effort on experience rating and incentive schemes and relatively little effort penalizing safety violators? While rewarding employers that report few injuries and not penalizing employers with injuries and fatalities is likely politically popular with employers, its seems an unlikely way to protect workers--which is the point of occupational health and safety systems.

-- Bob Barnetson

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