NPR recently reported the story of Pius “Gene” Hobbs, who was killed in a work-related accident when a dump truck backed over him. As the network reported, Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health investigated the incident and, according to federal authorities, did very poorly, failing to interview the eyewitness, missing possible work safety violations and failing to properly test the truck’s backup beeper. Kentucky OSH issued no violations and assessed no fines against the employer as a result of the accident.
But Kentucky’s inept investigation of Hobbs’ accident was only a symptom of a more serious condition.
According to the NPR report, Kentucky’s OSH is a “state plan,” which means “the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has authorized it to run its own worker safety program.” There are 28 such state plans across the United States, and OSHA annually audits those state plans to ensure “they are ‘at least as effective’ as the federal agency at identifying and preventing workplace hazards.” The 2017 fiscal year audit of Kentucky OSH “identified more shortcomings in Kentucky’s program than any other state.”
The OSHA audit “was sharply critical, depicting an understaffed, under-resourced agency that’s failing to protect Kentucky’s workers. It also included a special study exclusively examining how Kentucky falls short at investigating deaths on-the-job.”
The Kentucky Labor Cabinet declined multiple interview requests for NPR’s story.