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In recent years, Montana has experienced a high number of injuries and illnesses in the workplace. In addition to the devastating human costs, these elevated rates have adversely affected workers compensation rates in the state. The Montana Safety and Health Bureau, which administers the OSHA On-site Consultation Program in Montana, is addressing this disturbing trend by teaming with other safety-oriented offices and organizations in the state. Together, they are developing strategies designed to educate employers and workers about a variety of topics and programs aimed at reducing hazards in the workplace.
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issued its annual report, Workplace Injuries and Illnesses. As a nation, the numbers were encouraging. Injuries and illnesses among private sector industry employees occurred at a rate of 4.2 cases per 100 equivalent fulltime workers—a decline from 4.4 cases in 2006. However, while the U.S. as a whole was seeing a decline in incident rates, the state of Montana was seeing increases in this important measure. Montana had an incident rate of 6.3 in 2007, and the rate rose to 6.4 in 2008 compared to the national average incident rate that year of 3.9. This figure gave Montana the unenviable distinction of having the highest injury and illness rate in the nation. The Montana Safety and Health Bureau staff knew that funds were being spent promoting safe and healthful workplaces, and there was a strong commitment throughout the state to protect workers, but the high number of incidents did not reflect this level of commitment. The Montana Safety and Health Bureau was determined to repair the problem.
When the Montana Safety and Health Bureau began to investigate why the injury and illness rates were high, they discovered that while numerous programs were in place to assist companies with efforts to improve protection for workers, many people in a wide variety of industries were not aware of the Montana Safety and Health Bureau or the services it provides, including free training and assistance for small businesses. In addition, efforts to promote workplace safety were not efficient in reaching intended audiences. While there were quite a few entities in the state whose goal was protecting workers from workplace hazards, each group tended to operate its own programs without coordinating with other groups to leverage their efforts.
The Montana Labor-Management Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation also realized that there was a link between the elevated injury rates in Montana and the high workers’ compensation rates. These rates have made Montana’s workers’ compensation rates the second highest in the country. According to data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), if the state were able to get its injury rate down to just the national average, it would save Montana businesses around $145 million each year. That savings in revenue would encourage business development and stability. The message was clear: If Montana reduces workplace injuries and illnesses it will make the state more competitive.
Developing a Coordinated State Safety Program:
The Montana Safety and Health Bureau teamed up with WorkSafeMT (www.worksafemt.com) after the organization was formed in 2009 by Montana’s Labor Management Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation. As a non-profit organization funded through a combination of private and public funds, and grants, WorksafeMT facilitates communication among safety groups in the state and has coordinated events designed to showcase workplace safety and health resources.
The Montana Safety and Health Bureau coordinates with WorkSafeMT to leverage its own promotional and training efforts and bring greater awareness of OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program to the state’s employers and workers. One example of this cooperative relationship has been the Bureaus participation in safety conferences organized by WorkSafeMT. During the two “SafetyFestMT” conferences held in 2010, more than 1000 people attended events held in Helena and Missoula. These events featured classes, workshops, and general assembly sessions. Instructors at the events included representatives from State and federal government, insurers, and the On-site Consultation staff from the Montana Safety and Health Bureau. The events are provided free of charge.
The popularity of these meetings has prompted event organizers to schedule three SafetyFestMT events for 2011 at various locations throughout the state of Montana. In addition, the group plans to hold 2 to 3 meetings each year thereafter. State and Federal offices in Montana are encouraged by the overwhelming success of these events and by the new coordination of occupational safety and health efforts between various entities in the state. According to Tammy Lynn, Consultation Project Manager for the Montana Safety and Health Bureau, “[t]here is a renewed sense of optimism that these coordinated efforts will reverse the trend of rising injury and illness rates in the state of Montana. Ultimately, by addressing occupational health and safety concerns, Montana will be able to improve the economic conditions for businesses while addressing the health and safety needs of workers throughout the state.”
Source: Tammy Lynn, Project Manager, Department of Labor and Industry, Safety and Health Bureau, Helena, MT (April 2011).