A longstanding California occupational safety program requiring all businesses to eliminate workplace hazards can help prevent injuries to workers, but only if it is adequately enforced, according to a new study by the RAND Corporation.
The first-ever evaluation of the California Injury and Illness Prevention Program found evidence that the program reduces workplace injuries, but only at businesses that had been cited for not addressing the regulation's more-specific safety mandates.
"We found the safety effects to be real, but not very large," said John Mendeloff, lead author of the study and a senior public policy researcher for RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "We think that the most important reason for the limited impact of this program is that inspectors often did not go beyond a review of the employer's written document."
When California Division of Occupational Safety and Health inspectors did investigate further and found failures to comply with provisions to train workers, identify and abate hazards, and investigate injury causes, the average injury rates at targeted businesses declined more than 20 percent in the following two years, Mendeloff said.
However, these provisions were cited in only about 5 percent of Cal-OSHA inspections, RAND researchers found. In the other 20 percent of inspections where a violation of the rule was cited, it was only for the section requiring the employer have a written program. Such a violation carries an average penalty of $150.
The California Injury and Illness Prevention Program, which became effective in 1991, requires all employers to adopt certain procedures. These include communicating to employees about risks, carrying out regular workplace surveys and abating the hazards that are found, training employees about how to work safely, and investigating the causes of the injuries that occur. In contrast, almost all other safety standards address specific hazar
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