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Injury and illness rates in warehouses are too high, OIG tells OSHA


Photo: Ton Photograph/iStockphoto

Washington — OSHA hasn’t “effectively addressed” elevated injury and illness rates in the warehousing industry, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General contends.

A recent DOL OIG audit, the results of which were released Sept. 27, sought to answer the question: “To what extent has OSHA addressed high injury and illness rates at warehouses (before and during the COVID-19 pandemic)?” The oversight agency analyzed injury, illness, complaint and inspection data from October 2016 through 2021; interviewed OSHA personnel; and reviewed OSHA guidance and standards. 

OIG says the injury and illness rate in 2021 was 5.5 per 100 employees – “more than double the rate across all industries” – and 5.1 per 100 employees during the audit period. The audit revealed that OSHA conducted nearly 3,800 inspections in the industry, covering 4.1% of establishments self-classified as warehouses. OIG also found that 82% of those inspections were unprogrammed, primarily stemming from referrals or complaints.

OIG makes seven recommendations to OSHA:

  1. Update the criteria for the number of establishments to be included in the Site-Specific Targeting Program’s universes to better reflect industry growth and the number of eligible establishments nationwide.
  2. Develop specific, measurable inspection goals for the Site-Specific Targeting Program, including a baseline for the number of inspections in each Site-Specific Targeting category, and periodically monitor progress toward those goals.
  3. Develop a more effective enforcement strategy to improve employer Form 300A compliance.
  4. Assess Form 300A data categories and gather more specific supporting information about injuries to better identify the count and type of injuries reported, such as musculoskeletal disorders.
  5. Develop improved Form 300A data analyses to better identify trends among industries and establishments.
  6. Develop specific measurable inspection goals for the warehousing National Emphasis Program, including a baseline for the number of inspections to complete and periodically monitor progress toward those goals. Ensure the goals contain metrics that demonstrate the outcomes of the program.
  7. Issue specific training to address the training components of the warehouse National Emphasis Program.

OSHA administrator Doug Parker pushed back on OIG’s conclusions, saying the audit was based on a limited set of data points that “do not account for important contextual factors.” It also, he claims, didn’t consider the overall impacts on worker safety across multiple industries and attempts to make “broad policy judgments” that “go well beyond OIG’s expertise.”

Parker writes: “OSHA recognizes a need to increase the effectiveness of our enforcement activities to protect workers from the unacceptable injury rates in the warehousing and related sectors. OSHA not only disagrees with the OIG’s report but is frustrated and disappointed with the OIG’s conclusions. The OIG’s methodology and reasoning are flawed and do not result in recommendations that would strengthen OSHA’s enforcement efforts.”

Finally, he contends that the audit process was a “missed opportunity to work collaboratively” with OSHA personnel on enforcement programs in the sector.

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