Magazine article Occupational Hazards

House Hearing Addresses Injury and Illness Underreporting

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

House Hearing Addresses Injury and Illness Underreporting

Article excerpt

In a June 19 hearing, the House Committee on Education and Labor convened to consider potential underreporting of workplace injuries and illnesses, with several expert witnesses testifying that underreporting is a widespread problem that must be addressed.

"Underreporting on-the-job injuries and illnesses is not a new problem. Nor is it an isolated one: It happens in job sites across different industries and throughout the entire country," said Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., during his opening statement.

The hearing first called on A.C. Span Jr., a former employee of Bashas' Distribution Center, an Arizona food distributor, to illustrate his experience with insufficient injury reporting and employer involvement. Span described a lack of training, an unsafe work environment and the employer's unwillingness to address these issues.

Span said he received only 5 minutes of training for the heavy equipment he was expected to use 8 hours a day. He added that he witnessed unsafe working conditions and observed as coworkers incurred on-the-job injuries. According to Span, injured workers often were put on light duty, which resulted in a significant pay decrease. Employees, therefore, were reluctant to report injuries.

In light of these problems, Span said he and several other workers attempted to start a safety committee. When the company refused to hear their concerns. Span and his colleagues turned to OSHA, only to be disappointed once again with the results.

"In the end, while OSHA solved a few things, they did not fix everything and the company was never fined," Span said. Two weeks later, the company announced plans to outsource jobs, and Span, along with 28 other balers, lost his job.

Research Points to Underreporting

Kenneth Rosenman, M.D., the professor of medicine chief for the division of occupational and environmental medicine at Michigan State University, stated during the hearing that research during the last two decades shows that the current reporting system provides an inaccurate injury count.

"There is no disagreement in the medical literature that an undercount exists and that this undercount is significant," he said.

Rosenman cited several studies that estimated between 33 and 69 percent of all nonfatal injuries go unreported. "What's needed is a comprehensive system for work-related illnesses and non-fatal injuries that makes use of available, non-employer-based data systems analogous to what now exists for traumatic work-related fatalities," he said. …

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