OSHA official disputes NC Labor Commissioner’s ‘record-keeping’ comments


A high-ranking federal OSHA official took sharp issue with recent comments by N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, saying her critique of a federal program was “rife with errors.”

In a News & Observer story about a federal program aimed at catching employers who try to hide workplace injuries, Berry contended the plan was mandated for all states that do their own workplace safety enforcement.

Deputy Assistant U.S. Labor Secretary Jordan Barab said that’s not true. The federal government encouraged those states to participate in the program but did not require it. Berry was under the impression the program was mandatory.

Berry also maintained that the record-keeping program is an “outrageous waste of taxpayer money” – an assertion Barab disputed. Accurate injury statistics help OSHA focus attention on the workplaces that need it most. “The whole point of the record-keeping program is to ensure a good use of taxpayer money,” Barab said.

Asked about Barab’s comments Berry said there were “clear philosophical differences between me and the current administration.”

“We reject their notion that the way to make North Carolina workplaces safer is through higher penalties, ‘shaming’ businesses through the media, beefing up enforcement, relegating consultation efforts to the back row, and a one-size-fits-all approach,” Berry wrote in an e-mail.

“I’ll go after the bad apples but we must have consultation, education and training as part of an effective safety and health program.”

A recent federal audit found that North Carolina’s workplace safety program sometimes downplays serious safety problems, issues lower-than-average fines to violators and fails to properly handle whistleblower complaints.

The News & Observer’s story focused on a report about the federal program to crack down on companies that hide injuries. The report, by Washington-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says the initiative is “plagued by poor design and anemic implementation.”

Barab and some other workplace safety experts counter that the program is accomplishing what it set out to do: improving the accuracy of workplace injury records. Read More.


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