After reading over Mr. Toloken's Page 1 story regarding plastics industry safety records (“OSHA: Plastics safety steady,” Jan. 14), I am overwhelmed with disappointment. My feelings are amplified by the statement made by Mr. Crickenberger: “The whole area of safety and safety perform-ance is just not a priority issue in most U.S. industries.”
I beg to differ. In recent years, we were a “voluntary” participant in one of OSHA's industry-specific emphasis programs. We worked closely with other plastics processors over a two-year period, and the segments of the industry we were involved with have worked hard to improve their performance and records.
The primary issue we have come across is the workers' compensation system. It has become too easy for a worker to claim a cumulative trauma disorder, or any injury, as work-related. It apparently takes just a few weeks to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, particularly if the worker has not had another job recently that could have affected the condition. Doctors are worried about being sued, so they believe and treat whatever a patient tells them. Insurance companies find it easiest to pay the claim and raise the next year's premiums.
Injuries require time off for doctor's visits, surgery, rehabilitation, etc. Mr. Crickenberger points out that the industry is “too accepting of injuries.” We are not accepting of injuries; we simply have no alternatives. The system is set up to protect the rights of the worker, honest or not, and those of us footing the bill have virtually no recourse against questionable injury claims. Thus, practically any condition can become a work-related injury, and the OSHA reports reflect every one of them.
I would like to see the industry focus more on what we view as the real problem — the workers' compensation system. Perhaps publications like Plastics News, organizations like the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., and companies like ours could work together to combat this issue.