The OSHA budget request for FY 2017 released earlier this month contains a provision for the unprecedented creation of a Data Analytics Unit. OSHA is requesting $900,000 and five full time employees for the unit. This expansion into data analysis signals an increased commitment by OSHA to the role analytics can play in creating safer workplaces.
According to the proposed budget:
“The [new Data Analytics] Unit will look at preventing occupational illness and injury through the collection of data that will help better identify the strategies and tools to control exposures to workplace hazards. More specifically, it will focus on methods and tools to identify and quantify workplace hazards; evaluate the efficacy of hazard control-techniques; construct and support data dashboards to ensure that OSHA regional and area leadership have the data necessary to better manage and target inspection activities; and facilitate data sharing between OSHA and other agencies.”
OSHA says that the Data Analytics Unit will help other OSHA programs work more effectively and efficiently by providing “systematic assessment” of existing projects to identify gaps and shortfalls so corrective action can be taken. The proposed budget makes clear that this Data Analytics Unit will be entrusted with an entirely new sphere of work, and “will not duplicate the efforts” of existing OSHA departments.
The creation of this unit is another sign that OSHA sees value in an analytical approach to EHS. This is also reflective of overall trends toward using data capture and analysis to take a proactive approach to injury and illness prevention. More and more research is showing that when safety professionals use analytics to model the health and safety challenges in their workplace(s), they can more efficiently correct situations that pose threats to workers. Automated software solutions are now giving EHS professionals the ability to track safety performance on multiple levels across an organization, garnering data analytics that provide invaluable information which can be used to easily spot trends and risks. Users can then easily take action to solve problems and address issues before they turn into incidents.
OSHA sees enough promise in the field — and enough direct connection between analytics and worker safety — to “put its money where its mouth is,” so to speak. As OSHA phrases it in the proposed budget: “Through an investment in data analysis and evaluation, OSHA will have the tools to expand activities that strive to protect the safety and health of American workers.”
In the proposed budget, OSHA notes that it already uses Google Analytics and a digital program of the General Services Administration to track and analyze safety and other data.