OSHA's High Hazard Industries – a Look at Some Data

by Matt Shudtz

November 10, 2010

Every year, OSHA mails a letter to about 15,000 employers who run high-hazard worksites, warning them that their most recent annual injury and illness rates were well above average. According to OSHA,

For every 100 full-time workers, the 15,000 employers had 4.5 or more injuries or illnesses which resulted in days away from work, restricted work or job transfer. The national average is 2.0.

The letters went out in March, but I just got around to digging into the list of recipients (zip file), and thought I’d share some analysis that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Sorting the list by industry code, I put together a chart of the industries that received the most total letters -- down through the top 10 percent of them. The chart gives some additional detail (like the percent of surveyed employers who received letters in each industry), but here’s the rub:

  1. Nursing Care Facilities– 2291 letters sent
  2. Home Centers– 1065 letters sent
  3. Plumbing, Heating, and Air-Conditioning Contractors– 362 letters sent
  4. Continuing Care Retirement Communities– 342 letters sent
  5. General Warehousing and Storage– 262 letters sent
  6. General Freight Trucking, Long-Distance, Truckload– 261 letters sent
  7. All Other Plastics Product Manufacturing– 239 letters sent
  8. Lumber, Plywood, Millwork, and Wood Panel Merchant Wholesalers– 232 letters sent
  9. Electrical Contractors and Other Wiring Installation Contractors– 229 letters sent
  10. Beer and Ale Merchant Wholesalers– 216 letters sent

These data, in other words, show where a lot of the injuries and illnesses are occurring (keep in mind also that some of these industries are far bigger than others). 

The letters are, for the most part, a stern warning. The 15,000 employers that received a letter were culled from a list of 80,000 employers who submitted injury and illness data to the agency under the OSHA Data Initiative survey. The ODI asks for injury and illness data from 100,000 employers with more than 40 employees, in a limited number of industries. Without getting into the many details (pdf), each year over 4,000 of the 80,000 ODI respondents are added to OSHA’s primary inspections list through the Site-Specific Targeting program. Although the 4,000 primary targets do not necessarily overlap with the 15,000 letter recipients, no employer wants to receive a personal missive from the head of OSHA. 

The letters are intended to put industries on notice that there’s a problem, and that OSHA is paying attention.  And clearly some industries and employers are in need of a wake-up call. If OSHA releases the list of letter recipients again next year, we’ll see if that’s the case.

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Matthew Shudtz, J.D., is the Executive Director of the Center for Progressive Reform. He joined CPR in 2006 as policy analyst, after graduating law school with a certificate in environmental law.

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