Warehouse workers in New York and across the nation are prone to injuries and illnesses due to their working conditions. They're surrounded by large machinery, heavy items, and potentially hazardous materials. Many of the workers' compensation claims our New York law firm handles are the result of warehouse injuries and illnesses.
Recently, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL OIG) has raised concerns about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) not effectively addressing elevated injury and illness rates within the warehousing industry.
In a recent audit spanning from October 2016 through 2021, which was released in September 2023, the DOL OIG aimed to evaluate OSHA's efforts in addressing these alarming injury and illness rates, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What did the OIG audit reveal?
The key findings of the audit revealed alarming statistics. In 2021, the warehousing industry's injury and illness rate was 5.5 per 100 employees. That's more than double the rate across all industries.
The rate during the audit period was 5.1 per 100 employees. OSHA conducted nearly 3,800 inspections in the warehousing sector. It only covered 4.1% of self-classified warehouse establishments. Additionally, 82% of these inspections were unprogrammed, originating primarily from referrals or complaints.
OIG recommendations for OSHA
The DOL OIG has made seven recommendations to OSHA, including:
- Updating the criteria for the Site-Specific Targeting Program to reflect industry growth and the number of eligible establishments across the U.S.
- Developing specific, measurable inspection goals for the Site-Specific Targeting Program. That includes a baseline for the number of inspections in each category and periodically monitor progress.
- Creating a strategy to effectively enforce and improve employer Form 300A compliance.
- Assessing Form 300A data categories and collecting more specific data to better identify injury counts and types.
- Developing improved Form 300A data analyses to identify trends among establishments and industries.
- Establishing measurable inspection goals for the warehousing National Emphasis Program. That includes establishing a baseline and monitoring progress to demonstrate program outcomes.
- Providing specific training to address the warehouse National Emphasis Program's training components.
Despite these recommendations, OSHA administrator Doug Parker has challenged the OIG's conclusions. He argued that the audit relied on a limited set of data points that didn't consider contextual factors. He mentioned that it failed to account for the broader impact on worker safety across multiple industries. Parker also expressed concerns about the OIG's attempt to make broad policy judgments beyond their expertise.
Parker maintained that OSHA is committed to enhancing the effectiveness of enforcement activities to combat unacceptable injury rates in the warehousing sector. While the OIG's report and conclusions are disputed, OSHA acknowledges the need for improvement and worker protection.
Common hazards that lead to injuries and illnesses in warehouses
Working in warehouses presents a multitude of hazards that can compromise worker safety. These include:
- Risk of musculoskeletal injuries due to heavy lifting and repetitive labor.
- Potential for accidents with forklifts and other equipment.
- Risk of hearing loss from prolonged noise exposure.
- Poor ergonomics contributing to chronic pain and discomfort.
- Falling objects and hazards when handling heavy goods at heights.
- Inadequate ventilation, leading to respiratory issues.
- Health risks associated with handling hazardous materials.
- Slip and fall accidents, often caused by wet or cluttered floors.
- Reduced visibility in crowded or poorly lit areas.
Know your rights if you've sustained a warehouse injury or illness
A warehouse injury or illness often requires medical care and time away from work. If you were hurt on the job, it's critical to seek prompt medical care and notify your supervisor or manager right away. Your employer will need to report the injury or illness to the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) and its insurance carrier.
You'll need to file Form C-3 with the Board within two years of your workplace injury. Completing this form can be confusing, and any error can result in delayed or denied benefits. That's why before you file, it's in your interest to consult an experienced New York workers' compensation attorney who can guide you through the process and protect your rights.
The attorneys at Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP in New York bring decades of experience handling workplace injury cases. To find out how we can help you, contact us for a free case evaluation.