What does new research on a commercial motor vehicle safety program have to do with OSHA’s proposal to put companies’ injury reports online?
The Coalition for Workplace Safety (CWS) has urged OSHA to withdraw its injury reporting proposal.
The CWS, which describes itself as “comprised of associations and employers who believe in improving workplace safety through cooperation, assistance, transparency, clarity, and accountability,” summarized its opposition to the public OSHA injury website in a prepared statement.
One reason the CWS opposes the proposed rule change is that the data provided on OSHA’s website would be misused to describe companies as “the most dangerous” or the worst when it comes to employee injuries.
It provides as an example of this the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program.
The FMCSA developed the CSA to increase the number of motor carriers the agency can evaluate each year. The program’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) uses motor carrier performance data collected from roadside inspections or crash investigations to identify high risk carriers.
Several outside groups have studied the SMS and called into question the accuracy of its safety scores for motor vehicle carriers. The studies suggest the scores aren’t an accurate assessment of a carrier’s crash risk.
FMCSA publishes this data online. A number of motor carrier trade associations have filed a lawsuit, requesting the court to order the SMS scores not be publicly available until alleged flaws in calculating them are addressed.
But a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says, wait a minute, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
The GAO report, Modifying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers, finds overall benefits of the program while, as the title suggests, making recommendations to improve it.
The good, according to the GAO:
“The FMCSA’s CSA program has helped the agency contact or investigate more motor carrier companies that own commercial trucks and buses and has provided a range of safety benefits to safety officials, law enforcement, and the industry … Specifically, from fiscal year 2007 to fiscal year 2012, FMCSA more than doubled its number of annual interventions, largely by sending warning letters to riskier carriers.”
The bad, from the same report:
“Based on GAO’s analysis of available information, most regulations used to calculate SMS scores are not violated often enough to strongly associate them with crash risk for individual carriers. Most carriers lack sufficient safety performance data to ensure that FMCSA can reliably compare them with other carriers.
“As a result, GAO found that FMCSA identified many carriers as high risk that were not later involved in a crash, potentially causing FMCSA to miss opportunities to intervene with carriers that were involved in crashes.”
The GAO recommended that the FMCSA only score carriers with more information to improve its accuracy and better identify high risk carriers likely to be involved in crashes.
GAO’s overall takeaway from its study: “A data-driven, risk-based approach holds promise; however, revising the SMS methodology would help FMCSA better focus intervention resources where they can have the greatest impact on achieving this goal.”
And the GAO isn’t the only organization to see the potential benefit of reporting safety incidents online. From the GAO report:
“Law enforcement officials and industry stakeholders generally supported the structure of the CSA program. These stakeholders told us that CSA’s greater reach and provision of data have helped raise the profile of safety issues across the industry … carriers are now more engaged … CSA has improved awareness and engagement within the motor carrier industry … carriers are in a competitive business and can feel pressure to improve safety scores to gain an advantage over the competition.”
Groups outside of FMCSA are using the SMS scores. The Department of Defense has written them into its minimum safety criteria for selecting carriers of hazardous munitions. And insurers, freight shippers and brokers also use SMS scores.
Getting back to OSHA’s injury reporting proposal, the CWS says the chief negative impact it sees would be misuse and abuse of employer injury data by those trying to misstate employer safety efforts.
The implications are that there would be at least two groups doing this: unions in order to organize, and the media in search of sensational stories.
Sure, companies where there have been deaths, injuries and property damage don’t want media attention because it can put them at a competitive disadvantage.
But what if you’re the company with the good safety record … the one without any recent fatalities or serious injuries? Wouldn’t you want independent confirmation, for example from the government, of your good safety record?
The only companies with anything to fear from public reporting of injuries by the government would be those employers with lots of injuries.
What do you think about government attempts to publish this sort of information about companies online, whether it be OSHA or FMCSA? Let us know in the comments.