A recently released study into the root causes of 323 workplace fatality cases conducted for OSHA by a team of consultants found that most of the companies involved had safety programs and personnel in place, but traditional safety strategies were often ignored.

Researchers reported that 80% of the employers involved in the cases had some form of a written safety program, and 80% had assigned safety responsibilities to a specific individual.

But only 20% had identified all or some specific workplace hazards, and not one employer listed typical hazards and a corresponding hazards analysis process.

Researchers also observed that:

  • Employers assumed employees knew about their personal safety;
  • Workers assumed that their bosses (managers and supervisors) knew about safety and would not have them do anything that would endanger their safety;
  • Most employees who were assigned safety responsibilities had never been formally trained in how to develop and manage an effective safety program;
  • Employee training was most often generic and not specific to workplace hazards; and
  • Safety discipline policies were rarely enforced.

    The study concluded that most employers “honestly do not know, or understand, what needs to be done for the safety of employees.”

  • Employees generally know the typical hazards in their workplaces, but “do not report them for fear of being labeled a troublemaker,” according to the report. “Many employers do no want employees to be knowledgeable about hazards for fear of phony claims” or liability threats, researchers concluded.

    Among the study’s recommendations:

    • Employers need step-by-step information on how to set up and manage a safety program;
    • Employers must be educated to understand the value of getting at root causes of incidents (29% of employers said employee misconduct was the cause of the fatal incident — not one employer indicated employer misconduct or problems in the management system were factors); and
    • Employees need a method for anonymously reporting workplace hazards.

    The study by Montgomery College, Conroe, Texas, was based on information provided by nine OSHA area offices in the agency’s southwest region. The fatality cases had occurred during a seven-year period. The study team leader was Ray Colvin, PE, CSP.

    Other findings:

    • 44% of the fatalities occurred when a shortcut was taken (not following rules, not using PPE, no lockout/tagout procedure, no confined space procedure, etc.);
    • 67% of fatalities occurred outside of a building;
    • 80% of the workers killed were experienced in their jobs;
    • 20% of the fatalities involved work not typically performed.