On Monday, July 7, 2008, we will hold the first meeting of a new advisory group that we're bringing together to help us improve our system for identifying fixed site employers whom we want to inspect.
Our existing system was developing during and after the passage of HB 2830, which laid out the requirement that Oregon OSHA needs to focus on worksites where we are most likely to encounter hazards. Our current effort is the first comprehensive attempt to revisit that process.
Our current system and the requirements of HB 2830 are often seen as being linked in some absolute sense. They are not. The current system relies on identifying specific employers for inspection based on specific employer information (claims records). Not only does the law not require such an approach, but discussion of HB 2830 before the legislative committees clearly allowed for an approach based on industry risk and industry data, rather than employer-specific data. In fact, the prime legislative sponsor of the bill repeatedly referred to such an industry-based approach in discussing the way he expected the bill's requirements to be implemented.
The law requires us to identify "places of employment," not "employers." The law specifically allows for "random" inspections. And the legislative history of the bill explicitly endorses the possibility of an industry-focused approach.
However, as the stakeholder group that developed the rules tried to improve the system at the time, it came to focus on the data that was available - and the most readily available data is claims data. The problem with relying on claims to identify individual employers is the same problem we had with letters sent to employers with a "high disabling claims rate" and the same problem we addressed with safety committees in proposing HB 2222. Simply put, most employers are too small for one, two or even three years of claims data to accurately reflect risk. Using claims data to choose between two otherwise similar employers in the same industry may be only marginally better, if at all, than choosing between those employers at random.
In the case of safety, the industries would be ranked and placed in four risk categories based on various sources of data about injuries and fatalities within the industry. In this way, we would use both state and federal information (as well as information both from the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey and the workers compensation databases). By combining these sources of data into a single comprehensive ranking, we can identify those places of employment at the greatest risk based on the nature of the work they do. After grouping the industries, we would select places of employment at random from within each group (trying to inspect 30 percent of the highest risk group each year, and a progressively smaller sample of the other three groups).
Using this approach (or some variation of it) will enable us to use the data we have readily available without relying upon employer-specific claims data to choose between small employers. And it will enable us to better focus our resources on those industries and activities where we know the risk of injury is greatest - reflecting the goal of both HB 2830 and of good workplace health and safety practice.
Our approach to health enforcement will be similar, but the nature of the available data creates some special challenges.