State is 12th in U.S. on job safety But Maryland only looks better against other states.

April 29, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Maryland has the 12th lowest rate of workplace fatalities among the 50 states, but don't breathe a sigh of relief yet. Maryland's job safety record is favorable only when compared with the troubling number of deaths and injuries at worksites elsewhere in the country.

More than 10,000 American workers are killed on the job each year -- one worker for every hour of the day, according to a study released yesterday by the AFL-CIO. Six million workers are injured annually, and 60,000 are permanently disabled due to workplace illnesses and injuries, the report said.

The study, "Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect," blamed the problem on "a lack of commitment, attention, and resources being devoted to worker safety and health" by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its state branches.

The report particularly criticized what it called an inadequate number of OSHA inspectors -- about 2,000 to monitor the nation's 6 million workplaces.

Marylanders may be unhappy to learn that it would take the state's 56 OSHA inspectors 44 years to inspect each workplace in the state one time.

But Nebraskans may undoubtedly be even more uncomfortable. Their inspection cycle, the longest in the nation, takes 167 years.

The U.S. average is 84 years between visits by OSHA inspectors, although surprise inspections of "high-hazard" workplaces are more frequent -- one every 25 years.

According to the report, the combined federal and state OSHA programs will spend only $3.80 per worker in 1992, while the injury rate is at its highest level in 10 years.

OSHA received about $380 million in federal funding in 1992 -- about one-third as much as the government will spend on fish and wildlife protection, the report stated.

According to the study, 812 workers -- 5.7 of every 100,000 -- were killed on the job in Maryland between 1980 and 1988. The national average was significantly higher -- 7.2 of every 100,000.

Maryland also scored better than average on workplace injuries and illnesses: 7.5 out of every 100,000 workers in 1990, compared with 8.8 nationally.

Jo-Ann Orlinsky, administrator of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office, said that the state consistently has scored better than the nation as a whole, and its rate of workplace injuries has declined steadily since MOSH was created in 1974.

But despite Maryland's relatively good record, she agreed that funding cuts are preventing MOSH from doing a better job. "More resources need to be devoted to occupational safety and health across the board," she said.

Federal funding cuts over the last several years have resulted in insufficient staff for both inspection and employer training programs, Ms. Orlinsky said.

Although she agreed with the gist of the report, she took exception to some specific figures. The study ranked Maryland 47th on the severity of its fines for employer violations -- $550 on average, compared with $1,130 for the nation as a whole.

Ms. Orlinsky said those figures, based on data from 1972 through 1990, do not take into account a tougher penalty system that took effect in Maryland in January. The average fine will be higher under the new standard, she said.

Maryland's level of fines also may be relatively low because of the state's high proportion of public-sector workplaces, Ms. Orlinsky said. MOSH, which has jurisdiction over state and local government job sites, and OSHA, which inspects federal sites, cannot fine governments, she said.

Ms. Orlinsky said she disagrees with the report's assertion that federal workplaces are generally less safe than non-federal ones, at least in Maryland. The type of work performed is a better indicator of safety than whether the workplace is federal, local or private sector, she said.

Construction jobs are "clearly" the most hazardous in Maryland, she added.

Ms. Orlinsky said MOSH has estimated its average inspection of high-hazard workplaces at once every three to five years, as opposed to the report's estimated national average of 25 years. MOSH's average health inspection in 1991 lasted 39 hours and safety inspections averaged 13 hours, she said.

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