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OIG: OSHA Must Do More to Protect Warehouse Workers  

17 Oct, 2023 Liz Carey

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Washington, DC (WorkersCompensation.com) -- According to findings from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, OSHA must do more to protect warehouse workers from illness and injury.  

The report, released Oct. 11, found that OSHA’s enforcement actions have not adequately addressed the high injury rate, and the high illness rate, that occurs in warehouse. The report said those protects were especially lacking during the period just before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“OSHA’s mission is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers nationwide, including the about 1.6 million at the nation’s nearly 20,000 warehouses,” the report said. “Warehouse workers face hazards that can result in serious injury due to powered industrial trucks, loaded pallets, and the repetitive movements involved. These dangers can be compounded when time-based delivery quotas are used to drive production goals. With high-speed fulfillment of online orders becoming the industry standard, some warehouse workers must work even faster. Consistently high rates of injury and illness before and during the COVID-19 pandemic indicated that warehouses were and continued to be dangerous places to work.” 

According to the OIG, OSHA didn’t inspect warehouses enough through its site-specific targeting programs. Additionally, the report found, the agency had limited visibility into the numbers and types of injuries that were taking place in warehouses because it only collects minimal injury data from employers and doesn’t enforce mandatory employer reporting requirements.  

“OSHA’s actions had not effectively addressed the high injury and illness rates occurring in warehouses. Injury and illness rates among establishments classified as warehouses have been consistently high: in 2021, the rate was 5.5 per 100 employees, more than double the rate across all industries,” the report said. “Despite consistently high injury and illness rates at 5.1 percent over the audit period, OSHA conducted a limited number of warehouse inspections: a total of 3,762, which amounts to an annual average of 4.1 percent of the establishments self-classifying as warehouses. Also, 82 percent of these inspections were unprogrammed, primarily driven by complaints and referrals.” 

The report found that even though the number of warehouses in the country increased, the number of inspections did not keep up with that increase. Warehouses make up less than one percent of the more than 8 million worksites that OSHA oversees, the report said, but warehouses have more than double the number of incidences per 100 workers. And, the report said, while the number of warehouses increased by 14 percent over the course of the five year audit period, the number of warehouse inspections conducted by OSHA decreased by 10 percent.   

The OIG said it also looked at data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that the number of reported cases of injury and illness in warehouses nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021 – from 42,500 to 80, 500. Warehouse workers also had more than double the number of days away from work for their injuries or illnesses, with 39 percent of the injuries in warehouses requiring workers to be away from work for 31 or more days per incident, compared to 23 percent for all other industries.  

The report pointed out that despite the high injury rate, most of the inspections at warehouses came not from programmed or planned inspections, but from complaints or referrals. Of the total number of inspections at warehouses between 2016 and 2021 (3,762), only 18 percent (691) came from programmed activities, while 64 percent (2,373) came from complaints and referrals.  

As a result, the OIG made several recommendations to OSHA on how to improve warehouse safety – to update the criteria for the number of establishments OSHA should include in its Site-Specific Targeting program, to develop specific, measurable inspection goals for the Site-Specific Targeting Program, to develop a more effective enforcement strategy and better data analyses, and to implement specific employee training to address the agency’s warehouse National Emphasis Program.  

OSHA has said that it disagrees with the OIG’s analysis, and that the audit “used a limited lens of industry-wide injury rates” to assess workers’ exposure risk and to make judgements on how OSHA should allocate its resources. OSHA said the data for the audit period shows it had a higher inspection presence in warehousing that in almost every other industry with comparable rates.  

However, OSHA did agree with the OIG that in needed to increase the effectiveness of its enforcement activities to protect workers.  


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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