SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite record high employment levels, California workers appear to be safer on the job, according to statistics released this month by the Department of Industrial Relations and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worker injury and illness rates covering 1997 (the latest year available) remained about the same as the previous year, continuing a seven year reduction in industrial injuries and illnesses among California workers. Worker injury rates for 1997 stood at 7.1 injuries per 100 workers, down from 9.4 in 1991. Only about 3.6 out of each 100 cases required days away from work or restricted work activity. That is also down from 1991 when the number stood at 4.6 for every 100 workers.
Workplace violence is also on the decline. The number of workplace assaults and violent acts for 1997 is the lowest since the practice of keeping national fatality statistics was implemented in 1991.
"The trend toward fewer workplace injuries and illnesses would indicate that California employers and employees are continuing their commitment to increased safety and health," said John Duncan, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations.
An example of preventive regulations is one recently developed by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and adopted on an emergency basis by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) which will reduce accidental needle stick injuries to health care workers by an estimated 76%. The Standards Board was directed to adopt the regulations by legislation signed by Governor Wilson on October 1, 1998 (AB 1208- Migden). Currently it is estimated that approximately one hundred thousand California health care workers are injured by accidental needle sticks every year. Exposure to contaminated needles can lead to the spread of infections among these workers and others who are inadvertently exposed to blood containing such agents as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. The new regulations will require the phased-in use of sharps injury prevention devices in health care facilities by August 1, 1999.
In 1998 the OSHSB also made California one of the first states in the nation to adopt regulations requiring special access lifts to serve people with disabilities and adopted comprehensive regulations updating California's elevator regulations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB) in 1998 helped clarify the Cal/OSHA field sanitation regulations by issuing a series of decisions on these often misunderstood rules. OSHAB also released a video, which is available at depository libraries throughout California, which explains the appeals process through depiction of an appeal proceeding. The video, entitled "Handling Your Appeal Before the California OSHA Appeals Board," together with the OSHAB appeals handbook, should provide valuable assistance to anyone involved in an appeal of a Cal/OSHA citation.
"Workers' compensation insurance premiums continued to decline this year as well," Duncan said. "Total premium cost for employers is now at the lowest level in twenty years, which is something no one would have thought possible prior to the 1993 reforms brought about under Governor Wilson."
During 1998 the Division of Labor Statistics and Research contributed to the education of public employers by conducting three training seminars to educate the public on the intricacies of prevailing wage laws. The effort was widely acclaimed by the many cities, counties and special districts charged with letting contracts for public works projects as a means of increasing compliance and preventing errors from occurring initially.
Regulations requiring payment of overtime pay after a forty hour work week have now been in effect for a full year, easing the way for many Californians to take advantage of more flexible work schedules. Until the 40-hour rules were adopted, most employers -- those not subject to collective bargaining agreements that contained a contractual requirement for overtime pay after a 40-hour week -- were reluctant to offer flexible schedules because of forbidding aggregate daily costs.
"It is too early to fully determine the various effects of the change," said Duncan, "but it is clear that the alarmist predictions by special interests opposed to the change have failed to materialize and in fact may have only diluted the public's understanding of the new freedoms." The same standard requiring payment of overtime after 40 hours of weekly work, operates in 47 other states, applies to federal, state, and municipal employees, and is the rule of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act as well.
The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement expanded its Targeted Industries Partnership Program to include increased education and enforcement activities in the state's restaurant industry. Restaurants, like the garment and agriculture industries, had experienced an increase in reported violations of wage and hour laws.
The Division has also stepped up its seminar activities to provide employers in these industries with education on basic labor laws, and has produced a video on TIPP enforcement actions and the need to comply with labor laws. The video will be shown at all educational seminars and to all farm labor contractors and garment manufacturers seeking registration by the Division.
Another video was produced by the Division of Apprenticeship Standards in 1998 as a tool to help expand the number of apprenticeship training programs throughout the state. The video is targeted to employers in any industry and explains how to start a program and the financial returns that this type of training program provides to employers and to the community at large. The video is available through the Division of Apprenticeship Standards and at depository libraries throughout California.
"The accomplishments of the Department of Industrial Relations during this last year, indeed during the last eight years, is a source of great personal satisfaction," Duncan said. "I am very pleased with our efforts to make DIR more responsive and accessible to the public, and particularly with our achievements in utilizing modern technology to better serve the people of California."