How Following OSHA Rules — and Taking Safety Seriously — Saves Lives in the Workplace
When a worker was killed after a crane fell, crushing the man, an OSHA inspection showed that the accident could easily have been avoided by extending outriggers designed to keep the crane from tipping. It was a simple step that would have only taken a few moments to put in place and would have saved that man’s life.
In total, OSHA found 13 serious violations during that inspection, levying $70,000 in fines on the company. But for that employee, no amount of fines will bring his life back. On that day, he left home that morning, having no idea he would never come home again. A tragedy that never should’ve happened.
The Facts Don’t Lie
Since OSHA began in 1970, the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers have been saved.
The year before OSHA was created, there was a little more than 56 million workers in the United States and 14,000 of them died on the job annually. Today, the number has swelled to more than 163 million workers, yet there are 9,000 fewer workplace deaths annually, even though the workforce has more than doubled. This is a testament to the fact that inspections work. While the rate of fatalities in the workplace have been diminished, there is still a long way to go.
OSHA rules are put in place for a reason, but those rules are only as good as the people who implement them. Following operating instructions, training employees and supervising the work is vital in keeping your workers safe. Ignoring them can have deadly consequences.
Once a hazard is identified, that is only the beginning of the process. The real work involves continued diligence in the form of education and inspections to make sure employers and workers are adhering to established safety protocols — or face the penalties.
Raised Penalties Equal Higher Standards for Safety
In 2019, OSHA enforcement raised the penalties to $13,260 per violation (up from $12,675), $132,598 for repeat or willful violations (up from $126,749).
But not all companies have to face penalties before taking action. In fact, more and more business owners have seen the positive impact of safety inspections and have even begun participation in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs. These are companies that have improved workplace safety in a proactive manner, seeking to head off hazards before they ever arise.
If we don’t learn from past mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them again. Prior to 1970, workplace regulations were less stringent, and in many cases, non-existent, something that resulted in the preventable death of thousands, such as March 25, 1911, when a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, and on April 16, 1947, in what has become known as the Texas City disaster. These days, thanks to OSHA regulations and tools, not only are evacuation routes mandatory and substances like ammonium nitrate known to be hazardous, but OSHA continues to release updated information and policies to ensure complacency never sets in. Not using this knowledge to improve safety is intolerable.
Instead of looking at the workers simply in terms of cold statistics, perhaps we should be looking at them as husbands, wives, sons, daughters and friends. Perhaps then the importance of each and every person’s life can truly be appreciated and protected.