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OSHA needs to improve incentive program policies, GAO says

May 16, 2012

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Washington – OSHA should provide more consistent guidance on safety incentive programs and workplace policies that may impact injury reporting, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

In an April report (.pdf file) examining six studies on safety incentive programs, GAO found that programs that reward workers for low injury rates, as well as policies such as post-incident drug and alcohol testing, may discourage injury and illness reporting. How employers manage safety also may play a role – fostering open communication may encourage reporting, GAO stated.

GAO estimates that 25 percent of U.S. manufacturers have incentive programs, often based on injury rates or behavior. Also, almost 70 percent of manufacturers use demerit systems that discipline workers for unsafe behaviors.

GAO said OSHA has taken “limited action” to address the potential effects of incentive programs, and recommended the agency develop guidance across all of its cooperative programs.

GAO also advised adding language about positive safety culture to OSHA’s Field Operations Manual. OSHA responded by pointing to a March memo sent to regional and whistleblower program managers, warning them about discriminating injury-reporting policies.

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