A positive note from 2009 –  it appears that it was a safer year to be a construction worker.  

The Labor Department recently reported that the number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses, an indicator of jobsite safety, declined in 2009.  The department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest annual workplace safety report on October 21, 2010 reporting construction injuries and illnesses on the job decreased 22% last year, or in numerical terms, to 251,000.  Looking at the data from a different perspective (always fun with stats) - injuries and illnesses per worker – also showed a decline.   In 2009 the rate was 4.3 cases per 100 workers, down from 4.7 in 2008.  See the report .   

Or maybe not.

As one would guess, part of the dip in workplace injuries and illnesses can be traced to the drop in construction activity.  However, the Labor Dept. highlighted that its own data may not be complete, because, as it sees it, some companies have not reported all injuries that occurred.  A representative added, “We are concerned about the widespread existence of programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and we will continue to issue citations and penalties to employers that intentionally under-report workplace injuries.”

This data may be especially relevant in light of OSHA’s “National Emphasis Program on Recordkeeping,” launched last year after several academic studies found that many companies were underreporting or incorrectly reporting workplace-related injuries and illnesses.  Through this program, OSHA aims to correct such inaccurate reporting via stricter enforcement.  The program did not specifically target the construction industry, yet included several pilot inspections of construction employers in  an effort to better understand how to approach potential underreporting issues within the industry on a broader scale.  OSHA more recently issued a revised directive for the national emphasis program that cracks down on underreporting of occupational injuries and illnesses.

It remains to be seen whether the lower rates bundled with scepticism regarding the construction industry underreporting may trigger increase scrutiny by OSHA…

UPDATED - November 1, 2010:  A new tidbit of news seemed especially relevant to this post….  

OSHA announced on October 19, 2010 its intent to expand its interpretation of the word “feasible” as related to occupational noise exposure standards.  Under current standards, a citation can be issued if a company fails to use engineering and administration controls (i.e. limit employee exposure) when they cost less than hearing conservation equipment or such equipment is ineffective.  OSHA intends to update “feasible” to “capable of being done,” which will result in citations for not implementing engineering and administration controls unless such controls will put them out of business or threaten the company’s viability.  OSHA is accepting comments on the proposed interpretation until December 20, 2010.