Some safety incentive programs are “especially problematic with ergonomic issues,” according to OSHA’s deputy director.
Jordan Barab told attendees at the 19th annual Applied Ergonomics Conference in Orlando that it’s difficult to hide an injury like a broken leg, but it’s not as hard to hide a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
Barab continued a dialog on safety incentive programs that resurfaced when OSHA proposed revisions to its guidelines for Safety Management Systems.
In those guidelines, OSHA said companies shouldn’t use safety incentive programs that reward low-injury rates because workers will hide injuries to qualify for the prize.
Barab specifically mentioned raffles for prizes as small as a day off from work but as large as a car as potentially causing problems.
This raffle method was recently advocated by the Great American Insurance Company in its comments on OSHA’s proposed guidelines. The insurer said programs that offer modest rewards for a lack of injuries, including raffles where not every worker wins, can help reduce workplace injuries.
On the subject of those guidelines, Barab said OSHA expects to release the final version for general industry in early summer. After hearing comment from companies, OSHA decided to create a separate set of guidelines for the construction industry which will be ready at a later date.
Barab also stated that, contrary to what is sometimes reported, OSHA doesn’t disagree with all safety incentive programs.
He said programs in which workers are encouraged to find solutions to workplace safety and health problems are fine with OSHA. As an example, Barab promoted the Ergo Cup competition being held as part of the conference where groups of employees present solutions to ergonomic problems in their workplaces.
Impact: Workers out longer
Barab said one reason why the metric of median days away from work because of an occupational injury is up is because workers wait to report injuries. Among the ones that they wait longer to report are MSDs, which account for one-third of all injuries.
As the economy has picked up and production has increased, Barab says bigger workloads, particularly in industries like food and nursing care, also contribute to an increase in injuries that keep employees out of work longer.
In his earlier tenure with the agency, Barab was instrumental in developing OSHA’s ergonomics standard which was enacted at the end of the Clinton administration and was rescinded by Congress in early 2001.