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How the Indiana state OSHA plan can improve its protection of workers

Ron Shawgo of The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind., has a set of articles today highlighting the state’s workplace safety agency’s decline in inspections and fines.

In fact, the pieces consider whether the workplace safety agencies of the 26 states with their own state plans are as effective as federal OSHA, including the Nevada and Hawaii state plans as potentially less effective.

According to the Gazette, the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

  • Inspects about 2,000 businesses a year, down from more than 7,000 in the 1980s.
  • Has 40 inspectors, fewer than federal regulators agreed to, and down from about 100 in the ’80s.
  • Issued violations in four out of 10 inspections compared with seven of 10 nationally last decade.
  • Issues fines for serious violations that average less than half the national rate.
  • Declined to go along with federal OSHA changes that increased fines in 2010.

And Indiana isn’t alone, but federal OSHA still had not designed a way to determine if state programs were “at least as effective” as the federal agency, as federal law requires.

To help, we offer some stats and facts of our own. Consider:

  • Indiana’s average fatality rate for 2006-2010 is significantly higher than all neighboring states—Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
  • Indiana’s workplace fatality rate was 17th highest in the country for the most recent year of data (2010).
  • Indiana’s penalties for serious violations—an average of a meager $886—rank 41st in the country.
  • Federal OSHA’s review of Indiana’s state program found that serious violators were automatically given a 50% penalty reduction. Comparatively, other states selectively offer reductions based on good faith, size of employer, etc. Why the free lunch in Indiana?
  • Federal OSHA also found that Indiana OSHA failed to follow-up on violators to ensure that they had corrected hazards in an unacceptably high 28% of cases.
  • It would take Indiana OSHA 110 years to inspect every workplace in the state once.
  • The state conducted 1,000 fewer inspections in FY 11 than FY 10, signifying that the program seems to be getting worse rather than better.
  • Indiana OSHA inspectors cite employers for violations in a far lower percentage of cases than the national average—only 39%, compared to 71% in Federal OSHA jurisdictions. This means that either Indiana OSHA is incorrectly targeting its inspections or it is not citing for violations that should be cited.

Now, here’s what needs to be done.

The Indiana state government needs to ensure that the state’s OSHA plan receives adequate funding. Currently, the agency’s number of inspectors is far lower than the number that federal OSHA has determined is necessary to sufficiently cover the state’s workplaces.

Additionally, Indiana OSHA should entirely revamp its penalty system, which as of now does not serve as a deterrent for unsafe conditions. The agency should impose higher penalties and stick with them; automatically reducing the penalties by half defeats the purpose of issuing the penalty to start with.

Finally, Indiana OSHA must ensure that its inspectors are properly trained to cite violators properly and hold them accountable for unsafe conditions at the workplace. 

Only then can Indiana OSHA fulfill its mission to protect the state’s workers and hold negligent employers accountable.

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