Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Safety inspections with penalties reduce injuries

A new study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine finds that workplace safety inspections (with penalties) of manufacturing businesses by the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reduced workplace injuries 19-24% over the following two years.

"A new estimate on the impact of OSHA inspections on manufacturing injury rates, 1998-2005" reports these effects do not appear in workplaces under 20 or over 250 employees or in the absence of penalties. Both programmed (i.e., planned) inspections and complaint-driven inspections generated this result, but programmed inspections appeared more effective at generating a reduction in injuries.

To the degree that this study is generalizable, there are several implications relevant to Alberta. First, inspections only appear to work when linked to a penalty for non-compliance (this is broadly supported by the literature). Employers do not meaningfully respond to non-penalty inspections. Second, the effect of inspections lasts about two years. A 14-year inspection cycle (as per Alberta) is unlikely to motivate employers to operate safely.

-- Bob Barnetson

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