This week, OSHA posted on its website a case study designed to show the benefits of implementing a comprehensive workplace safety and health program.  In announcing the case study, Assistant Secretary Edwin Foulke, Jr said the report “is a good example of what can happen when management and employees dedicate themselves to workplace safety and health.”  The news release’s quote from the company was equally positive “…safety is part of our culture, and we have had measurable results over the past 5 years.”  But, the Foulke-promoted report has a familiar blame the worker tone, even suggesting in one part that an employee’s broken wrist was not really work-related.

The case study involves Ritrama Universal Duramark of Minneapolis which is described as a “multi-national corporation that manufactures pressure-sensitive films and labels for the automotive, beverage, health, beauty and pharmaceutical industries.”  Back in October 1997, Ritrama was inspected by the State of Minnesota’s OSHA-program (MNOSHA) and received 10 citations.  Several were for guarding of belts, moving equipment parts and other hazards, and some for electrical and lock-out/tag-out dangers.  The company contested the citations and entered into a formal settlement agreement with MNOSHA.  The Ritrama report says the firm agreed to do the following:

  • develop a leadership-management program
  • involve employees in a safety and health program
  • appoint a safety director
  • form a safety committee, and
  • develop a recordkeeping program for injuries and illnesses

So far, so good.  The company reported a reduction in lost-time injury cases from 13 in 1996 to 1 in 2005, and 269  days of restricted duty for employees (because of an injury or illness) in 1995, compared to 0 in 2004 and 2005.  The results sound almost too good to be true, and I don’t have any data to indicate that they aren’t true.  My concerns comes from a few other things I read in the report.  Here are a few choice quotes (you can read the entire report here):

  • “The Safety Consultant [hired by Ritrama] found…most injuries were a direct result of the employees’ failure to follow established safety and health practices.
  • “…managers learned that requesting changes in employees’ behavior was not sufficient to cause it to happen; employees wanted to continue their past behavior.”
  • “The ‘spike’ in the graphs below [showing 180 lost-work days in 2002] was caused by an employee who…tripped, fell and broke his right wrist.  Surgery revealed that this employee had a pre-existing condition that resulted in multiple surgeries.” 

The most recent MNOSHA inspection at the facility (October 2005), the employer received two serious violations for hazards related to electrocution risk, with an $1,120 penalty.

In Mr. Foulke’s promotion of the case study, he notes that Ritrama is a “signatory of the Graphic Arts Coalition alliance” with OSHA.  (The original alliance agreement was signed in 2002, renewed in 2004 and again in 2006.)