A lack of attention paid to safe work practices and training, as well as a younger and newer workforce in manufacturing and construction have led to a rise in deadly industrial work accidents in Ohio, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Many fatal accidents could be prevented with the right equipment, but still there have been six deaths on the job so far this year in the region overseen just by Cincinnati area OSHA Director Bill Wilkerson. He estimates 17 total workers have died across Ohio so far in 2015.
“There may be just too little regard being paid to instructing people on safe work practices, having proper safety programs and procedures in place and making sure that people follow up on these things,” Wilkerson said.
“You can’t always expect that people are going to behave the way you trained them.”
Job cuts as well as baby boomer retirements could be leading to a lack of experience in the field, Wilkerson added. Now that activity is bouncing back from the 2007-09 economic recession, he said companies complain about the lack of skilled workers to be found, and it could be hurting safety.
|Fatal work accidents|
|The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is concerned about the rise in deadly work accidents in Ohio in recent years.|
|SOURCE: U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration|
Construction companies in Ohio employed 211,200 people on payrolls in 2008; in 2013, construction employed 184,800 people on average, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services statistics.
Manufacturers in 2008 employed 739,000 and industry employment sank to 662,000 in 2013, the most recent information available, according to state records.
“This is a significant factor, having workers unfamiliar with the hazards of the industry and the jobs. It does create a larger burden on industry to train them both on the job and safety,” he said.
Additionally, union membership dropped in 2014 to all-time lows of 11.1 percent nationally and 12.4 percent in Ohio, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“With the decline of unions and the decline in funding to government agencies that both tend to monitor and enforce safety in the workplace, it is not surprising that there might be more accidents,” said Joshua Schwarz, Miami University professor of management.
Unions negotiate wages as well as working conditions with companies for their members, said Neil Douglas, president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1943 in Middletown. The union has approximately 1,650 members, including hourly workers of AK Steel plant Middletown Works, Pilot Chemical, contractor Bowling Transportation and Cummins Bridgeway.
“As union membership declines because businesses go overseas or because laws or political forces change, there’s no doubt some of this stuff is going to happen,” Douglas said. “I think between the company and the union here, you don’t see the fatalities that used to happen when you worked at Armco and AK Steel” because of safety committees that formed.
“You’ve also got downsizing of people and with that, maybe it’s work harder and work faster and in that environment things can happen,” Douglas said.
Last year, OSHA investigated 46 fatal work accidents statewide, down from 48 in 2012, but a major increase from 38 work-related deaths in 2011, Wilkerson said. He and other area directors from Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo compiled the numbers, and are now trying to reverse the trend by raising awareness of what they view to be a problem.
The six fatal accidents so far in 2015 have occurred since October, the beginning of the federal budget year, in the region that includes the Cincinnati, Dayton and Springfield metropolitan areas, he said. Most recently, Brandon Carl, 35, of Kentucky, died Jan. 19 when Kokosing Construction Inc. crews were dismantling an old, unused bridge exit and the ramp fell onto Interstate 75 approaching downtown Cincinnati.
Nationally, accidents on the job investigated by OSHA killed 666 people in 2011, which also rose to 848 last year, according to the federal agency.
Thousands of companies operate in the state and its impossible for OSHA to inspect every work site, said Scott Allen, spokesman for the government agency.
Falls are the number one cause of death, accounting for 34 percent of the people killed in Ohio since 2012, but other major causes are being struck by vehicles or materials, and getting caught in equipment.
“If we were able to knock those three down significantly, we could probably address 85 percent of the major causes of fatalities in Ohio,” Wilkerson said.
Job sites are always changing in the construction industry and with so many variables there’s never one single thing to point to as a cause of an accident, said Terry Phillips, executive director of trade association Allied Construction Industries. She said she was not aware of the trend of rising fatalities.
But construction companies have an incentive to keep their workers safe because companies with a bad track record for safety may be deemed too risky to be hired for a project. Safety records also impact the costs of their workers’ compensation insurance premiums, Phillips said.
“OSHA’s regulations require the training and the contractors comply because if they don’t, they won’t get the work,” Phillips said.
“They’re motivated by not only taking care of their employees, but also being able to work for certain contractors and owners,” she said.
Allied represents the commercial construction industry and its 551 members include service providers, suppliers and contractors in Greater Cincinnati.
Dianne Grote Adams, president of consulting company Safex Inc., which works with Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, said “manufacturing has been challenged by doing more with less and trying to make safety part of the culture as our workforce diversity increases.”
One of the largest commercial construction companies in the Cincinnati and Dayton region, Messer Construction Co., did not have any work fatalities in 2014, said spokeswoman Jessie Folmar.
Folmar credits an apprenticeship program for laborers and carpenters, as well as a work culture that instills the importance of safety among company leaders and entry-level workers alike for a low accident rating.
Craft workers for the company start with a two-year laborer apprenticeship that matches them with more experienced tradespeople. Once completed, they have the option of continuing for two more years to become a carpenter, she said.
“People want to work for a company that has a safe working environment,” she said.
Additionally, Messer crews conduct safety orientations at the start of every job and hold huddles to identify work safety risks at the beginning of every shift, she said.
The work accidents investigated by OSHA do not include every occupational fatality. OSHA does not have jurisdiction where other federal agencies do, such as the Federal Aviation Administration. Nor does OSHA have jurisdiction over state and local governments and as such, it does not investigate police officers killed in the line of duty, for example. Also, the 46 fatal work accidents that the agency counted last year in Ohio do not include people who die on the job due to medical issues such as heart attacks or due to traffic accidents.
OSHA provides free on-site consultations to small employers, as well as other compliance assistance, educational materials and training. The Ohio On-site Consultation Program phone number is 800-282-1425.
Repercussions for safety violations found by OSHA include financial penalties for companies.
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