Workplace safety is a good thing, and is often cited as the driver behind a continuing declination in injury frequency.
21 states mandate that businesses have some sort of "safety plan". Logic would say that this mandate is part of the reason behind work place safety improvements and that safety plans are a primary reason why injury frequency rates have improved.
As with most things that seem logical, there has never been any empirical study to determine whether such logic is valid. With many such cases of assumption, the empirical evidence suggests that such assumptions are not supported, according to a news report in WorkCompCentral this morning.
Rand Corp.'s Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace has released a preliminary draft of a study report, "An Evaluation of the California Injury and Illness Prevention Program." Rand concludes that while mandatory written safety plans have not significantly reduced workplace injury and fatality rates in California, several elements that must be included in the safety plan, such as training and hazard abatement, do appear to lead to safer workplaces.
While the elements of an injury prevention plan are "obvious ingredients" of a good safety program, there is surprisingly little research that confirms the written plans themselves are actually effective, according to the report.
"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 study's authors wrote. "Firms may do as little as they can get away with and, depending upon the enforcement effort, that could include doing nothing at all."
California has mandated that businesses implement and maintain an "effective" injury and illness prevention plan since July 1991. Title8, California Code of Regulations Section 3203 requires the plan to identify who is responsible for implementing the safety program, ensure employees comply with safe work practices and ensure the plan is communicated to workers. The plan must also include procedures for identifying and evaluating work hazards, outline the procedure for investigating occupational injuries and provide training and instruction when the program is implemented, when new hazards arise or when new employees are hired.
Outside of the first two years following the enactment of the injury prevention plan mandate, the number of violations for not having a written plan in place has held steady. About 20% of inspections were for not having a written plan, and 16% were for specific violations, such as not documenting a hazard survey or employee training.
Whether the prevention plans reduced fatality rates compared to other states, the authors "did not find any improvement." They added that even if an improvement was noticed, it would have been difficult to determine whether the safety plan was responsible or whether other factors contributed to reducing fatalities.
What the study did find is that citations for violations for failure to provide training improved safety - in other words requiring a plan itself did nothing towards safety, but enforcement of safety training requirements greatly improved work place accident and injury rates.
"The most consistent finding for the subsections was that a citation for failing to provide appropriate training was linked both to poorer performance prior to the inspection and to improved performance (a 44% reduction) after the inspection," the report said.
In addition, passage of time introduces complacency.
"The motivational effects of a serious violation fade over time and compliance decays," the report says. "In contrast, it is plausible, but hardly guaranteed, that efforts to support the practices required by a firm’s safety and health program could have more enduring effects."
It's unfortunate that safety is subject to our old nemesis, human behavior, but when legislators start trimming safety enforcement budgets this report will surely surface to combat the red ink.workers compensation, work comp, injured worker