To the Editor:
In the 40 years since the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created, the agency has led the way to historic declines in workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. Today OSHA continues to make a difference in the lives of all workers by ensuring that businesses provide safe and healthful conditions for their workers.
At the turn of the 20th century, death in American workplaces was all too common, working conditions were dreadful and few laws existed to protect workers. Through efforts by individual workers, unions, employers, government agencies, and others, significant progress has been made in improving workplace conditions.
Since OSHA’s inception in 1970, workplace fatalities have been cut by more than 65 percent and occupational injury and illness rates have declined 67 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has almost doubled and now totals over 107 million workers at 7.6 million worksites.
In 1970, on average, 38 American workers were killed on the job every day. That rate has now fallen to just over 12 workers per day. That’s an outstanding collective achievement. But there is clearly much work to be done to ensure that all workers can be productive and safe, while looking forward to a retirement free from disabling occupational disease and injury.
In the Columbus area, our inspectors have identified falls, trenching accidents, and grain handling hazards as serious issues in many investigations. These are hazards for which there have long been common sense OSHA regulations in place. These protections are designed to keep workers safe and earning a paycheck, while also allowing businesses to continue to operate without the tragic interruptions and high worker retraining, insurance and compensation costs that accompany workplace tragedies.
In 2010, there were 42 fatalities throughout Ohio. These were preventable situations that don’t need to be repeated, as long as employers and workers are committed to safety.
Recently in the Gallipolis area, our compliance officer was performing a worksite inspection of a trench when he directed an employee to exit the trench, believing collapse was imminent. Within five minutes the trench collapsed and could have buried the worker under 6 to 7 feet of soil. The employer was issued willful and serious trenching violations with a penalty of $63,000.
This year grain handling inspections have increased as a result of more than 25 workers being killed nationally in 2010. At a grain facility in West Jefferson, our inspectors found 22 health and safety violations with a penalty of $171,000.
Over the past four decades, America ’s workers across all industries have benefitted from common sense government standards and greater awareness of workplace safety practices brought about by OSHA. Workers in high hazard industries such as construction and manufacturing have especially benefitted from OSHA’s efforts.
OSHA has had a positive impact in the lives of all Americans. However, until every worker can return home safely, free from harm at the end of the day, we must celebrate cautiously and never lose sight of the fact that no job is a good job unless it’s also a safe job.
OSHA Area Director for Columbus and southeast Ohio