After federal audits showed serious mishandling of the Kentucky Department of Workplace Standards last year, Dwayne Depp, Commissioner of the Department, has since acknowledged “that agency culture, a lack of accountability and staffing shortages had often led to poor investigations.” Since the investigation has brought to light internal issues, Depp now claims that the Department is back to the standards it should have had in the last few years.
The federal audit revealed that the agency neglected to properly investigate deaths in the workplace in the last several years. These issues first came to light in Fatal Flight, an investigation led by the KY Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource and Center for Public integrity.
When workplace fatalities occur, it is the KY Occupational Safety and Health Agency’s responsibility to inspect the circumstances around the incident and determine whether or not an employer was complying with state safety and health standards (Public Integrity).
In July of last year, Depp was brought into the agency as a response to these investigations and the federal audit. “We had a lot of repair work to do with our federal partners, a lot of repair work to do with the citizens of the commonwealth, we had repair work to do with our own team members,” he said.
What is the department doing to remedy these issues? According to Depp, compliance officers have undergone and will continue going through additional trainings when it comes to documentation (mainly writing case reports) and in investigations. Evidently, with previous cases only a select few of witnesses were spoken to and documented in case fillings rather than interviewing everyone who was present at the scene of a workplace fatality. Outside of case work, officers and additional staff are also undergoing trainings on empathy, respect, and professionalism. To help with employee retention and morale, the department has since increased salaries for investigators and is also considering improving their benefits.
Unfortunately, families of those affected by workplace fatalities during the agency’s failings are left with questions they may never get answers to. According to Public Integrity, “No one from the Labor Cabinet has met with any of the families that filed complaints with federal OSHA about Kentucky’s fatality investigations, but Depp said he was considering attending a Worker’s Memorial Day event at the end of the month.”