January 25, 2012
California’s injury and illness prevention program (IIPP) requiring employers to have a written plan to avert and reduce workplace hazards has failed to reduce fatalities and injuries, according to a recent RAND Corporation draft report released on January 12, 2012.
RAND Corp. researchers studied manufacturing, transportation and public utilities, wholesale trade, and health care in the first evaluation of the program’s effects on worker injuries in California. Since 1991, California employers have been required to have a program to reduce injuries, and every inspection must assess compliance with IIPP requirements.
The report said the California Commission for Health, Safety, and Workers’ Compensation asked RAND to assess the impact of the IIPP on injuries. To most safety professionals, the elements of the mandatory prevention plan “are all obvious ingredients of a good safety program. Despite that agreement, there is surprisingly little good research that confirms their effectiveness,’’ the draft report said. “Moreover, it is not at all clear that a mandate to adopt these practices will result in the same outcomes as when they are adopted voluntarily,’’ the 127-page draft for the commission said. Firms “may do as little as they can get away with and, depending upon the enforcement effort, that could include doing nothing at all,’’ the draft report said.
The report, which is out for comment through Feb. 21, is intended to inform policy in California and in the federal program under the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has made the adoption of a similar national requirement a top priority, the researchers said.
Section 3203(a) of Cal/OSHA regulations requires every employer to “establish, implement, and maintain an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program.’’ The researchers said workplaces without a written prevention plan had more violations than those with a written policy. Overall, noncompliance with some part of the regulation was found in 34 percent of nonunion establishments in the sample and in 15 percent of the unionized establishments. Establishments inspected more frequently, which tend to be larger ones in more hazardous industries, had better compliance with the IIPP in their first inspection after the plan became effective, the researchers said.
Researchers “failed to find any clear impact of the IIPP on the total fatality rate in California. We did find sizable effects when the specific subsections of the IIPP were cited, but this occurred in only 5 [percent] of inspections.’’ The recordable injury rate dropped 26 percent in the year after an employer was cited, the researchers said. Using that 26 percent figure, researchers found “on average, an annual reduction of 0.29 injuries at a workplace with 30 employees and 0.96 at a workplace with 100 when they implement
the specific subsections of the IIPP.’’
Following a decline in IIPP violations in the first two years after effective date, the number of violations per inspection remained fairly constant both for Section 3203(a) (IIPP) and its specific subsections. “Thus, either due to lack of information or lack of deterrence, newly inspected establishments are no more likely to have written programs now than 20 years ago,’’ the report said. Once cited for an IIPP violation, however, researchers said the likelihood of finding another IIPP violation at that establishment declines substantially.
Cal/OSHA annually inspects 8,000 to 10,000 of some 700,000 establishments in California. The two largest categories of inspections are planned inspections targeted primarily at high-hazard industries and inspections made in response to complaints and reports of serious injuries. The average penalty per inspection is slightly higher in California than for federal OSHA and much higher than in other states, researchers said. “It appears, however, that the very high penalty per serious violation, and the prospect of an employer-friendly appeals board, has led to a much higher rate of contested violations than in other states,’’ the draft report said. The higher rate of contests “is consequential’’ as employers cannot be required to abate violations until resolution, in a process that usually takes months, the report said. 01.25.2012