Contrary to the popular belief that the service industry has safer working conditions, Public Citizen’s new report on workplaces in New York reveals that the service sector contributes to a major chunk of injuries and illnesses across all industries. This can be due to lack of regulations, programs, and training for employees in service-based jobs. The report also highlights the need for strict policies to reduce workplace injuries.
From 2010 to 2012, the number of reported private sector occupational injuries and illnesses (in New York) was 463,500. Out of these, 381,700 were reported from service-providing industries that cost the state a whooping $9 billion.
In 2012 alone, service-providing industries together accounted for 83 percent of New York’s occupational injuries and illnesses. Overexertion, lifting, bending, and twisting on the job, especially by warehouse material handlers, hotel housekeepers, welders, and nurses led to severe lower back injuries.
OSHA unable to keep up pace with changing times
One of the reasons behind the staggering injury rate is OSHA’s inability to keep pace with the changing times. According to Public Citizen, OSHA has greatly neglected service-sector worksites in New York.
Services contributed to a little more than 50 percent of employment in 1948. By 2008, the sector reported an 85 percent share in employment. However, OSHA was not able to revise its standards and increase its inspections as per the shifting trends (from a goods-producing to a service-based economy).
Since the past three decades, OSHA has been slow on its regulatory initiatives. Corporate political influence and a direct involvement of Congress and presidential administrations have prevented independent rule-making.
An insufficient budget and a dearth of safety inspectors has also prevented the federal safety agency to make any significant contribution. For the fiscal year 2012, OSHA’s budget was about $4 per US worker. In the same year, OSHA’s 115 inspectors were able to inspect only 5,511 of the assigned 592,148 workplaces in the state (that included state and local government sites). This included mere 416 workplace inspections in the service providing industry.
There is no accountability on the way the few service-sector workplaces were inspected. The report points out that, even if the needed standards were in effect, the agency would still lack resources to inspect service sector sites adequately.
Mandatory safety programs for employers in service industry
Keith Wrightson, author of the report and a worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen, says, “Safety should not be optional. The economic and health toll of avoidable workplace injuries is unconscionable, and the state must act now to improve this appalling situation.”
The report repeatedly highlights “if New York state were to reduce workplace accidents, the state’s economy would benefit greatly.” With effective implementation of inexpensive and cost-effective Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (commonly referred to as I2P2s) employers can identify workplace hazards and eliminate risks beforehand.
Public Citizen suggests revising the state’s workers compensation regulation. Also, increasing fines payable by employers and holding managers and supervisors accountable for their responsibilities could improve safety compliance.