Op-Ed

Ky. workplaces getting safer; state focused on improvement

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Last spring, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its fiscal year 2017 Comprehensive Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation Report, a semiannual review of Kentucky’s Occupational Safety and Health program.

Media outlets recently have seized on this report, cherry-picking portions of it to support narrow claims that the program conducts inadequate fatality investigations and is “failing” Kentucky workers.

Kentuckians deserve a more balanced discussion of the report and to be informed of actions underway at the Kentucky Labor Cabinet in response to its many findings.

There is still much work to be done in the KOSH program, but we are seeing year-over-year improvements in worker safety, which these media reports fail to mention.

In 2017, Kentucky’s non-fatal incident rate was 3.3 persons per 100 full-time employees, a decrease from a rate of 3.4 in 2016 and a rate of 3.7 in 2015.

Cases involving lost work time have decreased from 1.1 per 100 full-time employees in 2015 to 1.0 in 2016 and 0.9 in 2017. These rates have decreased, despite the fact that the number of employed individuals in this state has increased by more than 87,700 during this same time.

In other words, not only are more Kentuckians working, but they are working in safer environments.

During the nearly 40 years I spent in the logging, lumber and forestry industries — among the most dangerous industries in the U.S. — I made workplace safety my top priority.

After we employed a number of safety-centric protocols at our family sawmill, our injury rates dropped, our workers’ compensation insurance payments plummeted, and our productivity skyrocketed.

I have used that experience to improve workplace safety across Kentucky. While we have made significant strides, there is much work to be done.

The report identified a number of unacceptable issues in the KOSH program. The cabinet is currently working to tackle these problems head-on. The hard work of turning the program around is well underway.

In July, I named Dwayne F. Depp, an 18-year veteran of the Kentucky State Police and certified law-enforcement instructor, as the commissioner of the Department of Workplace Standards. Since he assumed office, the department has ratcheted up training requirements for investigators and has instituted mandatory deadlines to reduce report lapse times.

Additionally, and importantly, we reached out to our federal partners within OSHA to expand the lines of communication and strengthen our relationship. We view OSHA not as an obstacle, but, rather, as a resource and a teammate in this important effort.

In the coming months, the cabinet’s leadership will continue its review of the KOSH program and make or recommend changes to increase its effectiveness. If necessary, we will seek the assistance of the General Assembly, and we will continue to obtain the input of OSHA.

Our fundamental mission will always be to ensure every Kentucky worker who goes to work comes home safely to his or her loved ones, and we will continue to promote safe and healthy workplaces for all Kentuckians.

David A. Dickerson is acting secretary of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet.

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