Statewide, glass manufacturing workers saw the largest increase in nonfatal injury and illness rates in 2018, making it among the most hazardous occupations, the federal survey data show. FILE

Ohio workplace injuries decrease: What’s really going on

Number of workplace deaths increase in Dayton metro

Ohio’s workplaces are getting safer overall, but some sectors of the manufacturing industry with a strong presence in the Dayton region are seeing more workers get injured on the job.

Workplace injuries in the state’s private sector fell by more than 8% in 2018, and on-the-job fatalities saw an even larger decline, according to the most recent federal survey data analyzed by the Dayton Daily News.

However, the Dayton metro area saw a 20% increase in workplace deaths in 2018, and victims included a worker at Fuyao Glass America, which is a large and growing glass manufacturer in Moraine.

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Statewide, glass manufacturing workers saw the largest increase in nonfatal injury and illness rates in 2018, making it among the most hazardous occupations, the federal survey data show.

Injuries can occur in any workplace, and there were more than 3.8 million work-related injuries and illnesses last year.

A variety of different types of manufacturers also saw increased rates of injury and illnesses among workers.

But manufacturing has become safer even compared to the recent past and most injuries and illnesses workers experience are not so serious that they had to take days off from work, according to data and industry representatives.

“The progress in making manufacturing safer nationwide is a revolutionary story,” said Jamie Karl, director of communication services for The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association. “Anyone who walks through a modern manufacturing facility knows they not only can work there safely, they’d let their kids work there because it’s so safe.”

He added, “They also can eat off the floor, it’s so clean.”

Industries with the most injuries/illnesses

About 93,100 workers in Ohio’s private sector industries had nonfatal, on-the-job illnesses and injuries in 2018, which is 8,400 fewer incidents than 2017 (down 8.3%), according to the federal Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.

The 2018 injury and illness tally is well below any year since at least 2012, which is as far back as the survey goes.

In Ohio, the private sector industries that had the most nonfatal injuries and illnesses included trade, transportation and utilities (24,600 incidents), manufacturing (21,900) and education and health services (20,400).

But these numbers do not tell the whole story, because every industry and job sector is a different size.

Among private sector employers, foundries had the highest rate nonfatal injury and illness in the state of 8.5 cases per 100 full-time workers.

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Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting had the second-highest incident rate (8.5 cases per 100 workers) and forging and stamping ranked third (7.4 incident rate).

Glass and glass product manufacturing ranked fourth, with 6 nonfatal injuries and illnesses for every 100 workers, the data show.

This image released by Netflix shows Zach Ray at work at the Fuyao Glass America factory in Dayton, Ohio, in a scene from the Oscar-nominated documentary "American Factory."
Photo: Netflix via AP

Glass manufacturing also saw its illness and injury rate double between 2017 and 2018, which was the largest increase of any job subsector in the state.

This is relevant locally because the region is home to Fuyao, which is an automotive glass manufacturer that has about 2,300 employees and continues to add more.

Several year ago, Fuyao workers complained about unsafe working conditions at the Moraine plant.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Fuyao for putting plant employees at risk because hazardous conditions.

MORE: Fuyao response to OSHA: We are ‘laser focused’ on safety and quality

In March 2018, 57-year-old Fuyao forklift operator Ricky Patterson was killed after being crushed by more than a ton of glass. OSHA said Fuyao failed to ensure employees took measures to prevent glass from falling forward and striking employees.

Patterson was one of 12 people who died on the job in the Dayton metro area in 2018, which was the deadliest year for local employers since 2011, when 22 people were killed, federal data show.

Statewide, 158 workers were killed on the job in 2018, which was down 9%.

In a statement, Fuyao said employee health and safety is its first priority at Fuyao Glass America, Inc.

The company says in recent years it has expanded its employee health and safety department, offered more safety training and invested in safety upgrades.

“We have made tremendous improvement with respect to safety and we’ve experienced a stark decline in safety-related incidents as a result,” the company said. “Our current injury rates are well below the industry average. We’re always looking for ways to improve and our goal is to have zero safety related incidents.”

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation — which covers about 249,000 private and public employers, or about half the workforce — has seen declining injury claims for years.

Claims fell to 84,364 in fiscal year 2019, which was down about 1% from 2018 and 2.2% from 2017. The bureau received 260,000 claims in 2000.

“Fewer injuries translates to greater savings in workers’ comp, health care and other costs associated with a worker’s absence,” said Tony Gottschlich, public relations manager with the bureau.

More injuries/illnesses in these sectors

Overall, manufacturing saw a small uptick in its injury incident rate, which rose to 3.2 cases per 100 workers.

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But subsectors that saw the largest increases in the state included foundries, rubber product makers, natural resources and mining, petroleum and coal product makers and bakeries and tortilla makers.

Others included iron and steel mills and ferroalloy manufacturers, machine shops and turned product and screw, nut and bolt makers and wood product manufacturers.

The top concern of manufacturers is finding workers, and firms understand that they have to combat the perception that manufacturing workplaces are dark, dirty and dangerous, said Karl, with The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association.

Probably 99% of manufacturers are doing everything in their power to change minds and make their work environments safe, clean and appealing, he said.

Job hunters care about safety records because it’s their health and wellness at stake, and employers care about safety for multiple reasons, including financial ones, since they are on the hook for workers’ compensation bills, he said.

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Manufacturers that don’t have safe working conditions don’t tend to remain competitive or open very long, Karl said.

The federal survey data suggest the vast majorities of illnesses and injuries in Ohio aren’t too serious.

For instance, 28% of workplace injuries and illnesses among manufacturing workers resulted in them taking days off work.

Less than one-third of injury/illness cases in glass product manufacturing led to workers to take days off.

Ohio has about 701,000 manufacturing jobs, which is up from about 613,000 a decade ago.

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Manufacturing businesses care about their employees do not want anyone to get hurt, but also the high costs of injuries, including workers’ compensation expenses and OSHA fines and penalties, makes employers extremely motivated to have safe workplaces, said Don Clouser, vice president and general manager of Champion GSE in Springfield, which is a large metal fabricator that specializes in storage containers.

Employers generally have addressed the “low-hanging fruit” of workplace safety, like implementing measures after an injury or a near miss to prevent anything similar from happening again, said Clouser, who is the past chairman of the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association.

But employers need to continue to find ways to assess the work environment to imagine problems that have never come up before, he said, especially as workplaces keep getting safer since workers may be at risk of becoming complacent and forgetting dangers exist.

“Society as a whole is safer, and to me, that means people may let their guards down, and what shouldn’t be a danger becomes one because their sense of danger isn’t as high,” he said.

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