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Changes to OSHA Injury Reporting Requirements

Changes to OSHA Injury Reporting Requirements

 

OSHA Injury Reporting
OSHA Injury Reporting

The safety and health programs of companies will undergo changes that go into effect January 1st of 2015.  The Department of Labor’s rule making body and enforcement arm, OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), finalized a new rule on September 18, 2014 modifying the current injury reporting requirements for non-exempt employers with ten or more employees.  Businesses need to stay current with their policies and make adjustments in preparation for the modifications that are coming, and employees need to know how they are impacted.

Changes

Nonexempt business organizations currently have an obligation under law to report work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths to OSHA if they fall within specific guidelines.  All deaths must be reported, but the current rules require inpatient admissions to be reported only if there are three or more employees at the same time and they must be reported within eight hours.  The new rule going into effect on January 1, 2015 requires employers to contact OSHA for all hospitalizations, amputations, and the loss of an eyeball within twenty-four hours. 

The objective in the change is expanding the meaning of significant injury and generating immediate reporting on these types of incidents to allow OSHA to respond quickly to dangerous trends in workplaces.  Under current regulations, the same injuries would not be reported until the end of the reporting period extending the time employees would be subject to unsafe conditions.  In order to respond more quickly with provisions that will improve the safety and health of the workforce, it is necessary to possess a broader collection of real-time data. The inclusion of illnesses and injuries related to hospitalizations will provide an opportunity to react quickly to poison in chemical environments and microbial infection outbreaks in food industries possibly stemming the entry of harmful products from entering the market.

Employer

One of the changes in reporting is related to who must maintain records subject to audit.  The Department of Labor has recognized the need for real time data and perhaps as equally important is the availability of relevant data.  The standard for determining what entity qualifies for reporting and what business is exempt from reporting has been relaxed in the new reporting standards that have been updated to reflect average incident reported from years 2007 through 2009 instead of the 1996-1998 data.  The older data was reported through the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC), and the newer data is extrapolated from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). 

Based on the evidence that the number of incidents has been decreasing over time and the rules in place have identified industries with a lower risk of hazard. The regulations are targeted more to those higher risk industries that put more workers at risk.  Companies must adjust their policies to reflect the new standards going into effect and inform their employees of the changes.  The responsibility of employers is twofold: comply with OSHA in reporting, policy, and practice, and train employees to compliance.  Businesses are being driven to provide electronic reporting platforms that interact with the OSHA database through regulations.  They are further motivated to maintain policies that do not lead to retaliation for reporting against the employees.  

For an Employer to become compliant with the new standards, they must make changes to their current reporting system.  They must make changes in their policy to reflect the requirement to report immediately to OSHA incidents of inpatient hospitalizations for injuries, illnesses, or any incident resulting in the loss of consciousness within twenty-four hours.  Remember, the current standard requires hospitalizations that are three days or longer must be reported.  The final rule for creating an electronic reporting system has not been approved, but it looks to be in its final stages.  If the rule is finalized than nonexempt organizations must be ready to go on January 1st of 2015.   On the recordkeeping audit trail, the types of injuries that must be tracked have also changed.  There is a further breakdown of categories from injury and illness to define the degree of injury or illness.  Employers must now keep record of injuries that result in a disability, injuries that are severe in nature, if there is a loss in work hours by the employee, and injuries that are not serious as long as they meet certain criteria.  Essentially, if the damage is so minor as to not require more than a first aid kit you are not going to have to keep a log.  The increase in the range of issues that must be reported do create a greater responsibility for the employer. 

Of great importance, OSHA regulations have multifaceted implications for business owners given the fact that OSHA can shut them down for noncompliance.  The risks of noncompliance create an environment within business management to underreport incidents that will draw unwanted attention from the government’s regulatory agency.  One of the concerns with the changes taking effect in January is that all company events may become public data visible on the OSHA website.  While there are some companies that profit from bad news, no company wants the press associated from employee injuries, illnesses, or deaths.  It will result in negative consumer reaction, and competing businesses will have tools to affect the image of the company adversely with reported injuries. 

There is a genuine concern that management will create disincentives to reporting.  One way that this is done is by offering bonuses for zero safety incidents in a given work period.  Another way employers disincentivize their employees from reporting is to use a group rating in the criteria used for pay raises.  By including a category for safety violations in the criteria, the employees will have a direct incentive in their wallets to keep the reportable events to themselves.  Any behaviors of this type are counterproductive to the mission of OSHA.  In order to reduce injuries, illnesses and deaths OSHA must have the factual data.  A failure in the data collection process results in harm to employees.  The liability of owners is significant when OSHA discovers underreporting or retaliation on the part of employers.  With this perspective in mind, employers must exercise due diligence to comply with the implementation of the new reporting regulations.

The Employee

The employee’s health and safety are the entire mission of OSHA.  Employees have the right to work in an environment that is free from negligent practices on the part of the company and the organization that facilitates the preservation of that right is OSHA.  It is the responsibility of the employee to make sure they are reporting incidents to their employer and not hiding the problem. 

Under the current system, OSHA can only investigate an employer for retaliation if the employee files a complaint.  The path forward seeks to give OSHA the ability to initiate action against an employer who has policies in place that discourage employee reporting.  The program is for the primarily for the benefit of the employee but also benefits the company from a risk standpoint.  The responsibility for training for compliance with OSHA lies with the employer who may lay out the policies in a way that does not completely inform the employee of their rights.  With the proposed rule that makes an employer’s history visible on the internet it is possible to overcome some of the ineffective training. 

The privacy of the employee is an important variable also.  With electronic reporting, the employees’ personal information such as their name and address should not be published.  The regulations prevent discrimination against employees who have filed claims before.  It would not be difficult for an organization to take a potential hire’s resume, look up their previous employer’s OSHA report and identify an employee’s reporting history if the information were publicly available on the internet.  Despite the potential challenges to the relationship with the employer, the employee must report any incidents of injury or illness in order to promote safety in the workplace and prevent other employees from health hazards.  The employee must make a diligent effort to be aware of their rights under law and not allow an employer to bully them into silence.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration is a regulatory body under the Department of Labor and has dramatically improved the work conditions for employees steadily since its creation in 1970 by congress.  It is an advocate for workers health and safety originating in the government and acts in a capacity similar to that of unions in the early part of the twentieth century.  The obvious benefit is that there are no union dues, and employees will never be asked to strike.  Employees are only asked to preserve the integrity of the system through compliance in the reporting process in an attempt to maintain the accuracy of the data.  Good data will result in sound policies, and good policies will result in improved quality of life and saved lives.  The idea of OSHA to an employer can be terrifying and complex if it is not given the attention it deserves.  With the proper training, review of information, and implementation of laws both employers and employees can overcome the fear of OSHA and recognize it for the positive improvements it brings to the workplace. Regardless of how much OSHA is liked or disliked, employers and employees must be willing to take the time to comply with the regulations for two reasons: it is their obligation under law and it is the best tool to maintain a safe workplace.  On January 1st of 2015, the entire system will be improved as the new regulations are enacted, and it is in everyone’s best interest, employer and employee, to get within compliance.

About the author: 

The writer of this particular article is Ray Donato, a freelance writer specializing in the construction industries who tries to keep up on the latest changes. To make sure your company does not get caught off guard, he highly recommends the services of eCompliance.com for consulting and software to stay up to date. You can learn more about Ray by visiting on Google+.

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