Federal review faults state safety agency for understaffing

A federal review of Indiana's workplace safety agency faulted it for having too few inspectors, slow responses to complaints and missing potentially deadly hazards.
The U.S. Department of Labor's annual evaluation of the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration found it took nearly 72 days on average for the state to investigate complaints during fiscal year 2014. The national standard is five days. The findings indicate the state is emphasizing promoting a business-friendly environment rather than protecting workers, safety experts told The Indianapolis Star.
A spokesman for Gov. Mike Pence disputed that assessment, noting the state has implemented many of the report's recommendations.
"Any accusations of partisan mismanagement are cynical and unfounded," Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd said. "Indiana's workplace injury rate is the second lowest on record, and the administration is always working for improvement as it continues to build one of the best business environments in the country."
The federal report said the Indiana agency had 38 inspectors, far short of the 70 it should have, and that safety inspections resulted in citations 33 percent of the time, compared with the national average of more than 70 percent.
Indiana inspectors didn't flag apparent violations in 11 of 88 case files they reviewed, the report said. "Photos showed evidence of workers exposed to hazards, such as amputations due to inadequate guarding of machinery, electrical shock and falls that were not cited," the report said.
John Newquist, a former federal OSHA assistant regional administrator who oversaw state safety plans, said many issues point to the state's emphasis on being business-friendly.
"I think you can make that case with the low citations, low penalty and high in-compliance rates … the managers can't see the issues because they are looking at statistics," he said.
Tim Maley, a former safety manager for Eli Lilly and Co., took over at IOSHA under Gov. Mitch Daniels and was retained by Pence.
IOSHA's previous leader frequently cited construction companies based on photographs of unsafe practices provided by the Laborers' International Union of North America, but those complaints are now treated as a nuisance, said David Williams, the union's Midwest field operations coordinator.
"Contractors know … IOSHA will no longer issue citations from our photos, IOSHA is seriously understaffed and IOSHA will only issue citations from inspectors actually witnessing violations," he said.
IOSHA spokeswoman Amanda Stanley defended inspector staffing levels, saying the federal benchmark of 70 inspectors has not been revised since the 1980s. She said Indiana's 127 worker deaths in in 2014 were the fourth-lowest on record, with a high of 195 in 1994 and low of 115 in 2012.
"Workplace and employee safety continues to be a high priority," she said. "… Ultimately, safe workplace environments contribute to a business-friendly state."

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