Some may wonder whether the inspections conducted by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) actually have a lasting impact on workplace safety. A recent study dealing with Pennsylvania manufactures seems to indicate that they do.
The study by the Rand Corporation found that those inspections among manufacturers, which took place between 1999 and 2005, actually lowered workplace injury rates by 19 to 24 percent annually for two years following the inspection. This finding was surprising considering a previous study, looking at inspections between 1979 and 1998, showed the inspections led to only a five percent reduction in the workplace injury rate.
Researchers analyzed data from over 8,500 Pennsylvania manufacturers. They also used the state's employment numbers and data from the Pennsylvania workers' compensation program to determine injury rates. The information regarding inspections was provided by OSHA.
Although Pennsylvania manufacturers had annual injury rate reductions of 19 to 24 percent following an OSHA inspection, once two years had passed injury rates generally rebounded to what they were previously.
The study did not specifically evaluate why injury rates rebounded, but the co-author of the study suspects several factors may be involved. Workplaces may purchase new equipment, and new processes may bring about unfamiliar hazards. It is also possible improvements may give way to old habits.
The inspections that had the strongest impact were those that were accompanied by penalties. Interestingly, larger manufacturers with over 250 employees saw no improvement in injury rates. This may be because the inspection didn't cover the full range of the business. Moreover, the increased frequency of inspections among large employers may reduce their impact.
Source: Bloomberg BNA, "OSHA Inspections Reduce Injury Rates By 19 to 24 Percent, Rand Study Finds," May 31, 2012.