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House Labor vs. OSHA: Gloves Come Off

Visit http://edlabor.house.gov/ and check the latest documents posted, and you will find a 44-page report by the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee's majority staff on the pervasive problem of underreporting working injuries and illnesses. Safety professionals overwhelmingly agree the numbers can't be trusted -- attendees at last month's ASSE conference heard NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard strongly endorse a new way of counting and reporting, saying credible numbers are desperately needed, and he reiterated the point when OSHA chief Edwin Foulke Jr., sitting a few feet away on the same stage, tried to defend the status quo.

The report explains why employers and OSHA have incentives to underreport their injury totals and cites numerous examples of testimony and allegations by workers who say their employers threatened or punished them for getting hurt and forced them back to work quickly so the injury would not have to be reported.

The committee's chairman, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has been pushing OSHA and MSHA hard to stiffen enforcement and enact tougher standards. His full committee has a hearing set for 10 a.m. EDT tomorrow into the sufficiency of OSHA's construction safety enforcement, and this could be an equally thorny and related challenge to Foulke's agency. Construction ranks among the highest industries for fatalities and injuries, and accurate reporting could send its rates soaring.

The events that appear to have triggered tomorrow's hearing were construction fatalities in projects on the Las Vegas Strip and recent crane collapses in New York City; Miami; and Arlington, Texas.

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