Federal agencies Regulation Recordkeeping

New OSHA reporting requirements

OSHA wants final rule to spark a dialogue with employers on preventing injuries

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Key points

  • The final rule will require employers to report all fatalities within eight hours, as well as all amputations, hospitalizations and losses of an eye within 24 hours.
  • A change in OSHA’s industry classification system should help the agency better sync with other data sets.
  • Aside from enforcement, the new rule offers OSHA an opportunity to begin a dialogue with employers on preventing future injuries.

Gordon Gekko, the fictional millionaire from the 1987 film “Wall Street,” may not have been the most moral character, but he raised a good point about data: “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

In the world of occupational safety and health, information can mean a lot of different things – knowledge of safety systems, training or any variety of leading or lagging indicators.

In two separate rulemakings, OSHA has set its sights on the collection of information. Specifically, the rules would give the agency more access to data on injuries and illnesses occurring throughout the country.

This information, OSHA asserts, will help the agency better understand where injuries and illnesses are occurring, allowing the agency to better – and in a more timely manner – target enforcement and compliance assistance measures. It also could help with research into understanding the safety and health problems that workers are facing.

In this article, Safety+Health will explore the first of these two rulemakings. Part 2 appears in the December issue.

Recording and reporting changes

On Sept. 11, OSHA announced the publication of a final rule updating its recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Effective Jan. 1, the Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements rule will make two changes to current requirements.

The first change updates the list of industries whose low injury and illness rates make them partially exempt from maintaining injury and illness logs. The rule replaces the Standard Industrial Classification system, currently used to determine exempt industries, with the newer North American Industry Classification System.

Second, the rule revises the circumstances under which employers must report certain incidents to OSHA. At present, employers must report all fatalities and inpatient hospitalizations of three or more employees within eight hours. The new rule keeps the requirement of reporting all fatalities within eight hours, but adds reporting within 24 hours any inpatient hospitalizations (regardless of the number of employees), amputations or losses of an eye.

Beginning a conversation

Some stakeholders are concerned that providing OSHA with additional injury data will lead to more enforcement activity and increased citations. Although OSHA administrator David Michaels does not deny that some employers may be inspected after reporting information, he has stressed that the rule has the potential to do more.

“We know that enforcement is only one of our tools,” he said during a Sept. 16 media briefing at the 2014 National Safety Council Congress & Expo in San Diego. “I tell my staff that if all they do is enforcement and change what goes on in the workplaces that they inspect, then they failed because we inspect only 40,000 workplaces a year.”

Rather than inspecting every worksite reporting a hospitalization or amputation, the agency intends to use the new rule to open a dialogue with employers. This will include OSHA providing employers with resources and information for onsite consultations, as well as introducing employers to the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program.

Giving employers hazard-abatement resources after an incident could provide a “teachable moment” and help prevent future – and possibly deadlier – incidents from occurring, Michaels claimed.

“We’ve had too many incidences where we go into a workplace after a referral or a fatality, and we’ve discovered that there were two or three serious injuries that same year that we didn’t know about,” he said.

NAICS update

Perhaps one of the least controversial changes in the final rule is OSHA’s move from the Standard Industrial Classification system to the newer North American Industry Classification System.

NAICS is the standard system used by most government databases, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. By adopting NAICS, OSHA should be able to more easily compare injury and illness data with information from other government agencies.

“If the collection of injury and illness data are going to be designed into conformance and in relationship with other information, which would make sense, then the basic categories and framework need to be identical,” said Eric Frumin, health and safety director of the Washington-based labor union coalition Change to Win. “We need to compare apples and apples here.”

Switching to NAICS, OSHA and proponents suggest, could lead to better targeting and enforcement because of the broader breakdown of industries – NAICS allows for the identification of 1,170 industries, compared with 1,004 in SIC. Additionally, BLS uses NAICS in its annual survey of injuries and illnesses, meaning OSHA would base its industry list on more up-to-date injury and illness rates.

Because of the larger breakdown of industries under NAICS, establishments currently exempt from recordkeeping requirements might find themselves having to keep and maintain injury and illness logs under the new rule. This has prompted some industry stakeholder groups to urge caution.

“There are a significant number of industries and establishments that will now have to keep records, and there are economic impacts on these establishments,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated in its comments on the rule. Many of these establishments would be small businesses, the Chamber added, even though OSHA did not host a small-business advocacy review panel to take direct comment from this community.

OSHA estimates that compliance with the final rule will cost establishments no more than $100 a year. For currently exempt employers that would be required to keep records under the final rule, OSHA said the times involved would be less than an hour each for training; completing, posting and certifying OSHA form 300a; completing forms for each recordable; and reporting inpatient hospitalizations or amputations.

Reporting revisions

For Dave Heidorn, manager of government affairs and policy at the American Society of Safety Engineers in Des Plaines, IL, requiring employers to report amputations to OSHA brings up the question: “Why are we focused on amputations?” Although amputations are serious, other types of injuries may be more common and more deserving of reporting to OSHA, Heidorn said.

For example, hazards and injuries related to ladders are far more common. In 2012, 2.2 workers per 10,000 full-time workers were injured and required days away from work due to ladders, compared with a rate of 0.5 for amputation injuries, according to BLS data.

Frumin agreed that other types of injuries should be reported to the agency, but said amputations are a good place for OSHA to begin. For one, he said, standards are in place to help employers prevent amputations. Other injuries, such as back injuries, do not necessarily have such clear prevention measures outlined in standards.

Amputation injuries are relatively easy to classify, so they work well to trigger a reporting requirement. Figuring out how to classify injuries from a fall to trigger reporting would be more challenging, Frumin said. Which injuries would be the trigger – broken back, broken leg, sprained ankle, jammed finger or all of the above?

“Amputations are relatively distinct, clearly described events, as compared to, say, falls,” Frumin said.

If reporting amputation injuries is successful, it could pave the way for OSHA to collect other types of data. Frumin noted that employers are required to collect a vast amount of information, but the agency does not have regular access to it.

The challenge

About 25,000 reports to OSHA are expected to result from the new rule. When questioned as to whether OSHA will have the resources to process all of the reports, Michaels said it would be an “interesting challenge.”

However, a separate rulemaking may prove a much bigger challenge. The Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses final rule, expected in March, proposes much broader and more regular data collection. The agency has seen fierce opposition ever since releasing the proposed rule in late 2013. In next month’s issue, S+H will explore what the rule intends to require and why some stakeholders have reservations.

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