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Workplace safety may improve if OSHA publicizes violations

From 2009 to 2017, OSHA had a policy where it would issue a press release identifying those companies that commit a serious enough violation of its workplace safety standards. It was hoped that the press releases would educate other employers and deter them from making the same errors. New Jersey residents may wonder if the policy, which was discontinued by President Trump in 2017, was ever effective.

An economist from Duke University conducted a study showing that the policy was, indeed, effective. The study was based on the simple question of whether those companies in the vicinity of a penalized workplace saw any change in the number of their own safety violations. It turns out that a press release helped decrease violations among similar workplaces in a five-kilometer vicinity by a startling 73%.

Within a 10-kilometer vicinity of the publicized company, there was a 36% decrease. Even within 50 kilometers, the study found a significant 30% decrease. Along with this reduction in violations was a decline in workplace injuries and fatalities. The violations that were reduced were the ones most likely to cause serious incidents.

The effect is amplified when the penalized companies receive local news coverage. The author of the study said that to achieve this same effect without press releases, OSHA would have to conduct 210 inspections.

Many companies, though, may not be deterred by the prospect of being shamed in the media but rather continue to cut corners. Injured employees may file for benefits under workers' compensation law and receive them regardless of who was at fault. This is one way in which a workers' comp claim differs from a personal injury claim. However, employees may be at fault, in which case the employer may deny payment. They may want a lawyer, then, for their case.

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