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Stronger workplace accident reporting linked to improved safety

Employers in our state must abide by workplace safety laws enacted by the federal government and by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. But laws vary to certain degrees among the states, and a recent study of workplace accidents suggests that these differences are linked to the number of fatal accidents reported in a state.

The Rand Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace conducted the study, which examined the number of fatal and non-fatal workplace accidents in each state. Interestingly, a high number of fatal accidents tended to be correlated with low numbers of non-fatal workplace injuries. The same also held true in reverse: States with the highest number of reported non-fatal injuries tended to have the fewest number of employees killed in accidents.

While these results may seem contradictory, researchers explained them through the way in which states mandate the reporting of injuries. States with more stringent reporting rules will tend to have more non-fatal injuries because more are reported. Their more demanding rules will also tend to promote safer workplaces, leading to fewer fatal accidents.

By contrast, states with more lenient reporting demands will have fewer non-fatal injuries because some likely go unreported. But their lax standards may contribute to more dangerous working conditions, thereby tending to cause a larger number of fatal accidents.

The study also revealed that enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration plays a role in overall workplace safety. Companies fined by OSHA for violations tend to exhibit a drop in the number of injuries over the two-year period following the fine.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Study: Small reports foster overall safety," Ann Belser, May 16, 2012.

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