Is IOSHA leading or lagging?

Newspapers out of Indiana today published a pretty scathing review of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An almost 50% drop in inspections and fines is at the top of the complaint list.

However, the article’s premise has one big hole; Are increased numbers of inspections and fines the ultimate measure of workplace safety?

Before we answer that question, let’s see what the big deal is in Indiana. Since the organization’s origins in 1970, IOSHA has been charged with conducting surprise workplace inspections, following up on serious injuries and fatalities at work and making sure occupational safety rules are enforced. In the ‘90s, those surprise inspections plummeted from 6,700 per year to about 2,940 per year. Wrongful injury and death fines have also plummeted to almost nothing. IOSHA says this indicates that people are safer. As a result of the decreased incidents, and a few other state budgetary issues, the number of inspectors has also been sliced by more than half – there were 100 inspectors in the ‘80s and IOSHA employs about 40 now.

So what’s the deal? Does all this make Indiana a hazardous place to work? Maybe not.

Frankly, we believe that relying exclusively on injury and illness data to evaluate safety performance is like locking the gate after the horse gets out. In a recent article published by InjuryFree, we wrote that “Injury and illness data report on what’s already happened, that’s why they are called “lagging” or “trailing” indicators. By the time you get data on injuries and illnesses, someone has already been hurt; you can only respond reactively.”

Check it out. It is a great article.

So in some ways, IOSHA has it right. Workplaces need positive, permanent and preemptive change. This should come at the company level, because in the end it is the company that is on the hook for workplace injury liabilities. Will more fines and inspections create this environment based on leading indicators? Nope. But employee maintenance will.

What do you think about all this?