OSHA's data-collection program is helping the
agency focus its resources where the need is the greatest.
by Fred Walters
|Without the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, many chronic
problems would never improve. OSHA is busy doing just that to determine
how the agency can focus its efforts on reducing job-related deaths
in the American workplace.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),
the nation's 2001 workplace fatality count of 5,900 was down
less than 1 percent compared to 2000, excluding the September 11
terrorist attacks. But because total national employment declined
slightly for the year, the occupational fatality rate held steady
at 4.3 deaths per 100,000 workers.
OSHA fatality investigations are a major source of data for BLS. During
investigations, OSHA collects information about the workplaces where
fatalities occur, as well as about the circumstances and workers
involved. Compliance officers in the field then enter this information
into the agency's Integrated Management Information System
According to Richard Rinehart, epidemiologist in OSHA's Directorate
of Construction, "This effort allows OSHA to expand upon the
national data provided by BLS, and helps the agency to track trends
and identify the types of work and activities most associated with
fatal incidents." An analysis of fatality data helps the agency
make decisions about how to allocate resources to reduce work-related
fatalities, says Rinehart. Based on its research and evaluation
of fatality-related information, OSHA considers two groups of workers
to be among the most vulnerable:
Every year, more workers die in construction incidents than in accidents
in any other single industry. For 2001, BLS reports that 1,225 workers
in the construction industry were fatally injured at work, with
about one-third of these deaths resulting from fatal falls. Because
analysis of national fatality data shows that falls are a leading
cause of deaths in construction, OSHA has created numerous local
emphasis programs throughout the country that direct agency resources
to worksites where falls are most likely to occur.
- Construction industry workers, because their fatality rate is
consistently higher than the average for all industries; and
- Hispanic workers, because they have a higher-than-average fatality
rate, may experience language barriers, and are often disproportionately
employed in high-risk industries and trades.
Among the many high-hazard jobs in the construction industry is erecting
telecommunication towers, according to an analysis of BLS data by
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
With the increased demand for wireless communications in recent
years, this industry has grown substantially and its estimated fatality
rate is one of the highest in the construction industry. Based on
these findings, OSHA now works closely with NIOSH and the National
Association of Tower Erectors to help reduce these losses.
Hispanic workers are at a higher risk than non-Hispanic workers of dying
from workplace injuries. The fatality rate for Hispanic workers
increased by 7 percent from 5.6 to 6 deaths per 100,000 workers
between 2000 and 2001, while the number of fatalities increased
from 815 to 891. As one of many actions taken to address this problem,
OSHA launched a new fatality data collection procedure that uses
a specially designed questionnaire to collect information about
potential language barriers and other job-related risk factors.
In addition, the agency has formed an executive-level Hispanic Worker
Task Force, which uses the information from this questionnaire as
one of its tools in making recommendations.
OSHA is now working to improve the data it collects during fatality investigations.
Updating the way it collects and uses fatality data is one of many
initiatives and ideas that OSHA is pursuing to find new ways to
combat the continuing problem of work-related fatalities.
"We have great concern over the increase in deaths among construction
workers, Hispanic and Latino individuals and those dying from falls,"
said OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw when BLS released its 2001
workplace fatality data. "Our challenge is to continue to
improve our programs, fine tune our systems and work harder than
ever to drive down the fatality numbers even further. We won't
stop until we are successful. You have my word on that." JSHQ
Walters is a writer-editor in OSHA's Office of Public
Affairs, Washington, D.C.