From our perspective as lawyers representing Central New York’s injured construction workers in lawsuits against employers and construction site owners, it seems that there are a whole lot of OSHA scaffold, ladder and height-work violations in Syracuse and the surrounding areas. Every year without fail we file new lawsuits on behalf of injured construction workers who were caused to fall from scaffolds or ladders by safety violations. But apparently there may be more OSHA violations going on than even we could have imagined. A significant number of “hidden” accidents are never reported! Let me explain.
A little over a month ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the auditing agency for Congress, reported that employers and workers routinely underreport work-related injuries and illnesses to OSHA. This means that the number of OSHA violations causing injuries is actually higher than OSHA reports.
Why are so many EMPLOYERS failing to report workplace accidents? The GAO believes it is because they fear workers’ compensation premium increases and scaring off prospective and lucrative clients from contracting with them.
Ok, but why do EMPLOYEES fail to report their injuries? The GOA says it is because they fear getting “the ax”, or getting reprimanded, or undermining their chances of getting safety-based rewards and bonuses.
OSHA registered 4 million workplace injuries in 2007, including 5,600 fatalities. But if in fact employers and employees are hiding workplace injuries and illnesses from OSHA, then these figures are understated. The GOA report found that OSHA may have failed to include up to 2/3 of U.S. workplace injuries and illnesses.
The solution to the under-reporting? OSHA says it will accept the GOA’s recommendation that it require its inspectors to more thoroughly interview employees during routine audits so as to cross-check the accuracy of the accident reports (or lack thereof) they are getting from employers.
Will it work? Not if employers are encouraging employees to maintain a good safety-record at all costs, including by sweeping accidents and injuries under the rug. Employers can do this by wielding the “big stick” of dismissals and reprimands for reporting accidents, or by offering enticing under-reporting “carrots” to their employees in the form of rewards and bonuses for “good safety records.”
OSHA had better think harder about how to avoid this pervasive under-reporting.