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FIRMS AT FAULT IN DEATHS, SERIOUS INJURIES PAID OSHA AN AVERAGE OF JUST $890

Federal safety regulators collected a median fine of just $890 last year on companies found at fault for a worker's death or serious injury, less than half the inflation-adjusted fine in 1972, a newspaper said.

The Dayton Daily News, in a report to be published Sunday, also said it found as many as one-fourth of workplace fatalities in two states it examined in depth, Oklahoma and Arkansas, went unreported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1989 and 1990.OSHA was created by Congress in 1970 as part of the nation's first comprehensive federal system to protect workers. It relies on employers or the media to report on-the-job deaths.

The median fine - half were lower, half higher - paid to OSHA between 1972 and 1990 by a company found at fault for the death or serious injury of a worker was $500, the newspaper said. Fines reached their lowest level in 1982, early in the Reagan administration, falling to a median of $320, the newspaper said.

The paper's findings, which echo criticism of OSHA by some union and watchdog groups, were based on an eight-month review of 1.8 million OSHA computer records and interviews with more than 200 people, the newspaper said.

Just one employer, the owner of a construction company in South Dakota, has gone to prison on federal charges for safety violations that caused workers' deaths, the National Safe Workplace Institute, a private group, said in a study last year.

The employer served 45 days in prison after two workers were killed when an unsupported trench collapsed.

The newspaper said OSHA greatly reduced on-site inspections after Reagan took office in 1981. The regulatory system for workplace safety varies from state to state, with some states setting tougher standards than those of OSHA.

Gerard F. Scannell, who became OSHA's director in 1989, said he doesn't believe that many companies risk the lives of their workers.

"Why would they do that?" he told the newspaper. "I hear there are some bad employers out there. Well, I sure haven't met many of them."