Dr. David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, assistant secretary of Labor for occupational safety and health

Michaels Webinar Draws Crowd, Sheds Some Light

Incentives and recordkeeping were the focus of the one-hour presentation by the OSHA assistant secretary and ASSE. If your site has gone years with zero reported injuries, keep an eye on his agency.

The one-hour webinar hosted by ASSE on Wednesday and featuring Dr. David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, OSHA assistant secretary of Labor, as the sole speaker was a hit: More than a thousand people listened, and questions poured in, said host Tom Cecich, CSP, CIH, president of TFC & Associates and an ORC Worldwide safety and health consultant. Michaels was speaking and reading questions simultaneously for much of the hour, giving it a casual tone, but he did shed some light on his views about safety incentives and recordkeeping.

The event's title was "What to do About Safety Incentives?" Michaels has expressed skepticism about them, which probably helped to boost attendance. And there were many good questions.

"There's a tremendous amount of injury that OSHA is not aware of, that is not reflected" in BLS data, he said. "The question is, how much are we actually missing?" Michaels mentioned a recent Michigan State University study that attempted to count work-related amputations in Michigan during 2007. While DOL's estimate was 160 traumatic amputations during that year in the state, the MSU study counted 708 of them, he said. "We know we're missing them (recordable injuries)," he said. "The question is, why are we missing these injuries? What's happening to them?"

This figured into his comments about programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries. Michaels explained throughout the webinar that a good safety program that prevents injuries is desirable, but a program that punishes workers for reporting injuries is not. "An employee should not be fired for having an injury. . . . That clearly is a problem," he said. "If the only time you're disciplined is when you're injured, that's not a safety program."

He said OSHA is at the start of examining incentives and did not indicate a rulemaking was in the works. He asked the attendees to work with the agency, sharing research studies on this subject if they have them and attending his talk at ASSE's upcoming annual conference in Baltimore, Md., to discuss the issue in person. Michaels mentioned that OSHA intends to encourage electronic recordkeeping and injury reporting, saying this will help to eliminate confusion about the recordkeeping rules. He also said he'd like to find a better metric than recordable injury rates to track safety performance because the rates are a lagging indicator.

Questioners asked about VPP programs, about his view of compensation of business unit executives that is based on low injury rates, and whether OSHA intends to target companies that use incentive programs for possible enforcement. No, Michaels answered, but he said he may be suspicious of a company's claim to have experienced zero recordable injuries at its operations for several years.

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