TIPS FROM THE REPORTERS
Covering Worker Safety and Health
(From the IRE Resource Center)*
1. Investigate deaths and injuries. Every day, more than 16 American workers dies and 12,000 more are injured on the job. That doesn't include those who die from occupational diseases, which claim another 50,000 to 60,000 each year. No matter where you do journalism, there are a lot of stories there. Investigate them. Get the OSHA data from NICAR (National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting) at http://www.ire.org/datalibrary/databases/viewdatabase.php?dbaseindex=23. Review reports of mining deaths at http://www.msha.gov. Study Bureau of Labor Statistics safety data at http://www.bls.gov/bls/safety.htm.
2. Follow agency budgets and staffing. The AFL-CIO publishes an annual report that estimates how long it takes OSHA inspectors to visit every workplace in the country and in individual states. It's important to keep up with changes in budgets and staffing that affect how well regulatory agencies can do their jobs.
3. Keep up with the rulemaking agendas. Every federal agency publishes a semi-annual regulatory agenda in the Federal Register. Keep up with it to see if emerging health and safety threats are being addressed, or if agencies are falling behind their own rulemaking schedules.
4. Talk to the workers. . Sometimes this is the hardest part. Workers -- especially those without union protections -- don't always want to risk their jobs by giving interviews about safety problems. But they know the most about the problems they face. It's also worthwhile to interview families -- wives, children, sisters, parents -- of workers killed on the job. Putting a face on the statistics makes workplace safety problems harder to ignore.
5. Look for lawsuits. Lawsuits are often filed by injured workers, or by the estates and/or families of workers killed on the job. Plaintiffs' lawyers have tools that reporters don't -- they can subpoena witnesses and documents. The lawsuits aren't the story (well, sometimes they can be), but the materials uncovered in discovery are frequently a treasure trove for investigative reporters. Get to know the lawyers in your area who specialize in worker safety cases, and ask them for deposition transcripts and copies of records they obtained during discovery.
6. File lots of FOIA requests. File early and file often. Ask for entire investigations files, previous inspection reports, and correspondence with companies. Ask for scientific reports about the safety and health effects of various industries. Ask for the regulators' appointment calendars to see who they are meeting with and (maybe) listening to.
7. Follow the issue closely. There are a couple of great blogs about worker safety and health issues. Some good ones are http://thepumphandle.wordpress.com/ and http://weeklytoll.blogspot.com/.
*From materials by Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette.
Read Ken Ward's original reporting in the wake of the Sago mine disaster and watch the complete EXPOSÉ program.