The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics today released workplace safety statistics for 2008. (BLS release) The data highlight an important, positive development often overlooked by many policymakers – workplace injury and illness continue to significantly improve in both the private sector and more specifically in manufacturing. Overall in the private sector, we saw the most significant improvement with a 7.1 percent decrease in total recordable case rates; rates in manufacturing workplaces improved by 10.7 percent.
While no one factor completely explains this improvement, Members of Congress and Labor Department officials need to understand what’s working before they attempt to overhaul the current system. The leadership at the Labor Department has pledged a new emphasis on more aggressive enforcement and has questioned the effectiveness of non-punitive programs that assist employers to comply with existing standards.
In order to continue improving safety, policymakers should keep doing what works and that’s the cooperative approach that the OSHA has undertaken with employers. Proposals like the Protecting America’s Workers Act will create a more adversarial relationship while doing nothing to reinforce the successful work that’s already taken place.
UPDATE 3:23pm Labor Secretary Hilda Solis acknowledges the improvements, while continuing to stress the need for “strong enforcement.” Safety should be a top priority in every workplace and good injury data is essential, agreed, but we suspect any effort to validate recordkeeping will find the same improving trends among manufacturers.