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

Injury and illness rates in warehouses are too high
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 the Inspector General contends.

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.” The audit, he continues, also didn’t consider the overall impacts on worker safety across multiple industries while attempting 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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Original article published by Safety+Health an NSC publication

OSHA announces national emphasis program aimed at reducing, preventing workplace hazards in warehouses, distribution centers

Program also includes mail, parcel processing; local delivery; high-risk retail workplaces

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today launched a national emphasis program to prevent workplace hazards in warehouses, processing facilities distribution centers, and high-risk retail establishments.

In the past 10 years, warehousing and distribution centers have experienced tremendous growth with more than 1.9 million people employed in the industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows injury and illness rates for these establishments are higher than in private industry overall and, in some sectors, more than twice the rate of private industry.

“Our enforcement efforts are designed to do one thing: lead to permanent change in workplace safety,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “This emphasis program allows OSHA to direct resources to establishments where evidence shows employers must be more intentional in addressing the root causes of worker injuries and align their business practices with the goal to ensure worker health and safety.”

Under this three-year emphasis program, OSHA will conduct comprehensive safety inspections focused on hazards related to powered industrial vehicle operations, material handling and storage, walking and working surfaces, means of egress and fire protection. The program will also include inspections of retail establishments with high injury rates with a focus on storage and loading areas; however, OSHA may expand an inspection’s scope when evidence shows that violations may exist in other areas of the establishment.

In addition, OSHA will assess heat and ergonomic hazards under the emphasis program, and health inspections may be conducted if OSHA determines these hazards are present.

Inspected establishments will be chosen from two lists. One includes establishments with industry codes covered under this emphasis program. The second consists of a limited number of retail establishments with the highest rates of injuries and illnesses resulting in days away, restricted duty or job transfer.

State plans are required to adopt this emphasis program or establish a different program at least as effective as the federal model.

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Original article published by OSHA