OSHA’S New Workplace Reporting Proposal: What it Means to You

Three million workers were injured on the job in 2012, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Report. U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently unveiled a proposed rule to improve workplace safety and health via improved tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. The new rule could be put into effect within the next year. What do you need to know about it?

The nuts and bolts

The new proposal would require that establishments with more than 250 employees, who are already required to keep records, electronically submit those records on a quarterly basis to OSHA. The agency is also proposing that establishments with 20 or more employees and in certain industries with high injury and illness rates electronically submit their summary of work-related injuries and illnesses to OSHA once a year.

“Timely, establishment-specific injury and illness data will help OSHA target its compliance assistance and enforcement resources more effectively by identifying workplaces where workers are at greater risk, and enable employers to compare their injury rates with others in the same industry,” OSHA said in a press release announcing the proposal.

OSHA plans to post the data online and use it to identify workplaces where workers are at greater risk. It would be the first publicly available database of detailed workplace safety information at large companies

While it is yet unclear if companies will be indentified by name, OSHA hopes employers will use the data to encourage compliance within their own organizations and to compare themselves to their industry peers.

Reputations at risk?

The aim of the new proposal is to create safer workplaces overall and expose companies with poor safety records. Workplace safety advocates are embracing it, since they feel the fines imposed by OSHA are often relatively minimal compared to the seriousness of the offense. Making the data public could prove a greater deterrent to companies who are not in compliance with workplace safety standards.

On the flip side, however, the proposal has the potential to unfairly hurt organizations which do take workplace safety seriously. The data could be taken out of context in a way that can damage an employer’s reputation. For example, not every on-the-job accident is the fault of the employer. And certain industries simply involve more on-the-job risk than others.

With more workplace injury and illness data available, the rule could encourage an increase in lawsuits filed by employees who claim they were wrongly terminated or disciplined for complaining about workplace safety.

Costly lawsuits

Workplace injury stories have been making headlines recently. In December 2013 a New York man who suffered back injuries in a workplace accident was awarded more than $10.1 million by a State Supreme Court jury. According to a Buffalo News article, “the award included more than $2 million for past and future medical expenses, nearly $4 million for the loss of past and future earnings, more than $3.2 million for past and future pain and suffering, and more than $848,000 for loss of past and future household services.”

Also in December nine former Kansas City Chief players joined a brain injury lawsuit against the Kansas City Chiefs professional football organization. The plaintiffs said Arrowhead Stadium’s artificial surface contributed to the head injuries they suffered.

What do to now
There’s no question the new proposal could significantly increase your injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting responsibilities. While the proposal is still under review, it’s a good time to have your compliance team thoroughly review OSHA’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements.

The National Grain and Feed Association offers a good rundown on the new proposal and what it means. “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” is available in complete form here.

You should also be aware that as part of its effort to protect employee whistleblowers, OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program launched on December 5, 2013, an online complaint system, making it easier for employees to file complaints against employers – including those about workplace safety issues.

The good news is that if you’re committed to workplace safety, the new proposal will give you the opportunity to compare yourself (and be favorably compared to) other organizations in your industry. If your record is solid, public access to the data will only boost your reputation.

Finally, make sure your employees are aware of and are using your hotline to anonymously report safety violations and concerns. An independent, third-party hotline is an excellent way to reduce workplace risk and lower injury related costs – and to stop problems before they start.

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