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Status Report, Vol. 38, No. 1 | January 11, 2003 Subscribe

OSHA rejects Institute petition on belt use by private sector workers

Under a rule in effect since 1986, government employees must use belts on the job. But this rule never has been applied in the private sector, so last October the Institute petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require all employees to use belts while riding in vehicles on the job.

OSHA proposed a similar rule in 1990 but failed to finalize it. Now OSHA has rejected the Institute's 2002 petition, saying it plans to "provide increased occupant protection in motor vehicles through educational efforts." Institute president Brian O'Neill counters that "education alone won't work. Study after study proves this, which is why OSHA should require every employee to use a belt on the job. This would be one of the most inexpensive and cost-effective safety rules OSHA ever issued."

The Institute is asking OSHA to reconsider its denial of the petition.

Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of work-related deaths. More than 1,300 people died in on-the-job crashes in 2000. But the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that safety belts aren't used in at least two-thirds of these fatal crashes. A recent University of Michigan study suggests that belt use among drivers of commercial light vehicles is significantly lower than among drivers of similar private vehicles.

By requiring everybody in vehicles driven on the job to use belts, OSHA could supplement existing state belt laws. A number of government, nonprofit, and private employers have attained observed use rates of 85 percent or more, typically through a combination of highly visible enforcement and incentives.

Why OSHA action is needed

Passenger vehicle drivers on the job are significantly less likely to use safety belts, compared with drivers of similar noncommercial vehicles. This is the main finding of an observational study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

The study found lower belt use among passengers as well as drivers in commercial vehicles. The observers recorded shoulder belt use for both drivers and right front passengers in cars, SUVs, vans, minivans, and pickup trucks stopped at intersections and freeway off ramps. Vehicles were considered commercial if they exhibited lettering or business logos or if they carried work equipment.

The belt use rate in private vehicles was 72 percent (drivers) and 69 percent (passengers). Comparable use rates in commercial vehicles were 56 percent and 42 percent.

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