As I sit here, I recently learned that OSHA is investigating one of the Peoria-area facilities under its Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program. Under this program, OSHA will investigate to determine if work-related illnesses and injuries have been properly reported to the government by CAT. Under this program, a variety of information will be requested of the company, and interviews will be held with employees to determine the accuracy of the company-maintained illness and injury records. Caterpillar was one of the “chosen ones”. I know Cat is thinking, “why me”. I can tell you why they were selected from the masses of business in the U.S…

These injury and illness records are vital in the continuing efforts to improve health and safety in our facilities. Oftentimes, managers misguidedly attribute work-related injuries and illnesses to personal failures. Alternatively, the work-related injuries may be considered impediments in the quest for improved safety performance metrics. These metrics are actually based on what are called trailing indicators, that is, incidents and illnesses that have already occurred. Since the managers are evaluated for promotion and raises related to their performance on a variety of metrics including safety, the “kill the messenger” response to injuries workers report comes as no surprise.

Where does this “kill the messenger” mentality come from? Could it be our benchmarking peers? BP was one of the companies CAT benchmarked for its behavioral-based safety initiative. BP is a company that received a then-record $21 million fine in 2005 from OSHA for safety violations at Texas City that led to a massive explosion, 19 deaths and 180 injured workers. Four years later, OSHA hit BP with its largest ever fine, $87.4 million, for failure to correct hazards they agreed to fix as part of a settlement agreement related to the Texas City explosion—that’s a great example of a benchmark!

On April 2, an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Washington killed seven workers. Like BP, Tesoro is a safety award winner. Over the year, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) has granted the Anacortes Refinery numerous prizes– “merit” and “achievement” and “gold” -- including two awards last year. Tesoro notes on its web site that this recognition is for reducing “recordable injury rates”– the lost-time injuries that must be reported to OSHA. There are those safety metrics again.

Massey Energy, operators of the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners died in an underground explosion on April 6th, claimed a number of industry and government safety awards in 2009. The awards were based on safety metrics such as recordable injuries and lost work days, even though, according to the Labor Department, Massey has admitted to underreporting their injuries by more than 30%. It’s not hard to achieve great safety metrics performance when you don’t count all the injuries. In addition, research done by the United Mine Workers of America indicated that 52 workers have been killed on Massey Energy properties in the past decade. How do those metrics and awards effectively portray a company that has killed so many workers and amassed hundreds of additional safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine since the explosion?

Many companies like BP tout their safety records and their behavioral-based safety programs, but these “records” and programs are nothing to be proud of.  The day the BP Deepwater Horizon received a safety award for having no reported lost time injuries for 7 years, a group of BP bigwigs traveled out to the oil rig to celebrate the safety milestone. When it exploded, they escaped in a helicopter while eleven workers died and, there was untold environmental damage to the Gulf of Mexico.

Back to our employer…A number of weeks ago, a worker was attempting to un-jam a piece of equipment, a task he had to perform many times per shift. He reached over a barrier guard, was caught in the machinery and suffered broken bones. This worker received disciplinary action for failure to follow Lockout/Tagout! This response is asinine. First, any guard that can be reached over, under, around or through is not a guard. Second, the worker was expected to clear the jammed equipment and was trained in Lockout/Tagout as an “affected” person, not someone who was to apply locks and tags to equipment. Third, the new and improved un-jamming procedure defines, in writing, how to do this non-routine task without locking out the equipment, and in some cases, the supervisor is required to observe the operation, effectively becoming a management witness to a clear violation of the OSHA Lockout/Tagout standard.

Caterpillar has been cited numerous times in the recent past for Repeat Violations of the Lockout/Tagout Standard, and yet when their approved procedures fail, resulting in a worker getting injured, what do they do? Discipline the worker—that is just wrong. If you are disciplined for reporting an injury or for being hurt doing routine tasks that your supervisor has direct knowledge that you  perform, contact your Steward, Committeeman or UAW Safety Representative, because the discipline may be illegal.

Recently, during a start-up meeting, a line supervisor reportedly informed the people who worked for him that any Supplemental reporting an injury or illness would place their further employment at risk. Statements like that or policies that discourage the reporting of injuries are, again, against the law. Following this incident, a complaint was made to OSHA, and soon thereafter the supervisor mysteriously disappeared.

If you are a Supplemental or Probationary employee, you are required to promptly report your injuries to the Medical Department. You should feel free to do so without fear of retaliation, but we all know the truth. You are between the proverbial   “rock and a hard place”. You may fear for your job for reporting an injury—or for not reporting the injury, either way, the fear is the same.

There are a couple of different ways the union can help you in this situation. One way is for you to let us know where there are hazards in your work area that you think may injure you. We can intervene on your behalf and get the problem resolved. The other way is if you file Safety Complaints as prescribed in section 8.3 of the contract that the company is required to give you. Under the terms of the contract, you will have protection against discipline because you have engaged in union activity (one of the two ways the union can file a grievance on your behalf; the other is personal prejudice).

Have you heard the saying, “Liars figure and figures lie”? Trying to make improvements without accurate data is like attempting to drive somewhere you’ve never been without knowing where you are on the map. The data must be complete and the only way that will happen is if workers do not fear for their jobs if they report injuries, illnesses or near-misses. If management really wants to get where they say they want to go regarding health and safety, shouldn’t they be interested in gathering accurate data?

Employers who purposefully depress the number of injuries reported or who put policies in place to discourage reporting are actually putting workers at risk. If you have been discouraged from reporting an injury, been told your injury was not work-related or disciplined for reporting an injury or hazard, tell your UAW Safety representatives, and they will take the appropriate action on your behalf. If you are at the facility being investigated by OSHA for Recordkeeping and are asked to speak with the Compliance Officer, ask that your union representative be present and tell your whole story as it relates to your experience in reporting injuries. Remember, there has never been an injury or illness where a worker was not exposed to a hazard. By promptly reporting hazards, injuries and illnesses, you are helping to protect your brothers and sisters from future incidents.  Save yourself-save your fellow workers-REPORT!

In Solidarity

Steve Mitchell