On Sunday the New York Daily News published an investigation that found more than 30 "unreported" injuries involving medical treatment and lost-work time at the World Trade Center site going back several years. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration never learned of these injuries, the Daily News explained.
At first glance, I had to hand it to reporter Greg B. Smith and the Daily News for documenting what looks like a serious compliance violation by contractors at the site. And for bringing attention to the hazards and physical toll of construction work.
For all the big talk in our industry, much of it right here in ENR, about caring for the craft workers and cultivating and improving safety practices, concealing injuries appears to still be a big problem.
But it isn't exactly the way it was portrayed by the Daily News, which left matters a little unclear.
There are significant recording AND reporting requirements from OSHA, and they differ. The recorded accidents must be logged and remain at the site and ordinarily wouldn't be shared with OSHA off-site. Once an employer learns of or finishes initial dealing with a recordable case it has seven days to enter the case on the OSHA forms.
"Those logs just need to be available should OSHA show up," says a knowledgable safety manager.
OSHA has been tightening up the reporting requirements, and new ones kicked in this year. A worker losing a finger now, as I understand them, would require a call to OSHA.
Recordable injuries are ones that involve lost work time or off-site medical attention. Here is OSHA's explanation of all categories of recordable accidents contained in 29 CFR, Section 1904.
This difference between recording and reporting wasn't initially clear to me when I read the story.
On that first reading, I was concerned about the published responses from the Port Authority, which owns the site. Smith quotes the Port Authority giving a kind of wordy rationalization about how hard and successfully and innovatively its safety standards and practices were carried out at the WTC jobsites. That may be true.
The same went for my response to the comments from Lou Coletti of the Building Trades Association. Why not just say what the contractor's did was wrong and a violation of federal safety recording regulations and that it needs to be investigated and corrected?
"Did the Daily News leave out Coletti's and the Port Authority's comments saying as much?," I wondered.
But now I'm clearer that the contractors may not have been required to report, only record, these accidents, and OSHA only would have had access to the data, if properly kept, if it checked the log.
So this remains unexplained: Did OSHA fail to look at the logs, and would it only have been required to do so if there had been reasons to check?
Remember, based on hours worked, most agree the WTC sites were comparatively successful and safe despite the two fatalities that occurred.
Finally, you have to wonder how this type of story about proper injury recording or reporting compliance, and the injuries to workers, could hinder important efforts to reform New York State's onerous and costly Scaffold Laws. Those laws throw undeserved liability on employers and drive up the cost of construction for everyone in New York State. And the weight of the Scaffold Laws on construction and costs is worse than ever.
So unrecorded injuries at the country's most prominent workplace are just what construction doesn't need.