Catching up with the times, new OSHA injury reporting rule

The US Chamber of Commerce says it will “falsely brand” a company as unsafe. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) says it will “lead to unfair and unnecessary public shaming” of businesses. Both groups are referring to a new regulation issued last week by OSHA. The rule to improve tracking of work-related injuries and illness was proposed by the agency in November 2013.

Workplaces with more than 250 employees now will be required to submit annually to OSHA their injury and illness incident reports and a summary log. The forms used to record the data are ones employers have been using for years.  The only difference is they’ll be submitting the information electronically to OSHA. This new requirement will take effect in July 2018 for incidents that occurred in 2017. For all the moaning and groaning, only about 34,000 worksites fall under this requirement---a fraction of the more than 7.4 million worksites in the U.S.

For worksites with 20-249 employees there’s a different requirement, and it only applies to businesses in certain high-hazard industries. They will be required to submit annually just one document to OSHA: a summary log of work-related injuries and illnesses (i.e., OSHA Form 300A.) Most if not all of these firms are already using this form. The high-hazard industries subject to the rule include construction, warehousing, nursing facilities and grocery stores. OSHA estimates 407,000 workplaces in these industries and of this size will be submitting the annual record.

The rule's a big deal, maybe even a game changer. OSHA will have the benefit of establishment-specific data to guide its priorities and use its resources more effectively. The agency also plans to make the data available on its website in a searchable format. That's the part that has the Chamber of Commerce, NAM, and other business groups in a tizzy. They complain that OSHA is obsessed with "shaming" businesses.

Is it shaming when the FAA posts aircraft incident reports on its website? Here are just two examples from last week:

  • A Cirrus SR22 registered to Lee Montgomery of Westcliffelee, Colorado landed on a highway near Gallup, New Mexico.
  • While on taxi, a Piper PA28 struck a parked vehicle in Wickenburg, Arizona. The aircraft’s registered owner is Bird Acquisition of Wellesley, MA.

Among other things, the incident reports posted on FAA's website also characterize the degree of damage, and the severity and nature of injuries to flight crew, cabin crew, passengers and ground crew.

OSHA’s new regulation is actually a stripped down version of what employers in the mining industry have had to do for years. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has required all mining operations--no matter how small--to report to the agency within 10 days every injury, illness and certain close-call incidents. There are 27 mandatory items on the reporting form, including the worker’s age, years of experience, and description of the incident.  If treatment for the injury demands restricted duty or lost-time, the employer is required to submit an updated incident report with a final disposition of the incident (e.g., total number of days lost.) These site-specific records of injury, illness and near-miss incidents, which are available on MSHA’s website, date back to 1983. I've never heard anyone in the mining industry call the posting of these records "public shaming." OSHA's new rule is just catching up with the times.

One businessman endorsing the OSHA rule is Paul O’Neill. He served as President G.W. Bush's first Secretary of Treasury and was also the CEO of ALCOA from 1987 to 1999. He’s telling the business community “don’t fear the injury data”:

"Don’t fear transparency. Embrace it. A focus on safety − even in the glare of public scrutiny − will not only help your workers, it will also improve your bottom line."

No matter the views of Paul O'Neill, I've no doubt that others in the business community will continue their complaints about OSHA's new injury reporting rule. They'll have more than a year to get used to the idea and catch up with the times.

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Paul O'Neil as Secretary of Labor? I don't think so.

By Ron Signorino (not verified) on 23 May 2016 #permalink

Thanks for pointing out my mistake about Paul O'Neill. Not sure why I wrote Sec of Labor when I knew he was Sec of Treasury. I've corrected it in my post.