Federal agencies Recordkeeping

OIG finds flaws in OSHA’s fatality and severe injury reporting program

Photo: Ridofranz/iStockphoto

Washington — OSHA is not doing enough to ensure it has complete information on work-related deaths and severe injuries, and is not consistent in citing establishments that fail to file required reports, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General states in an audit report released Sept. 13.

OSHA’s changes to its injury and illness recordkeeping rule went into effect in January 2015, but OIG points to estimates from “OSHA’s former assistant secretary” that “perhaps 50 percent or more of severe injuries have gone unreported.”

OIG also found a “lack of guidance and training on how to detect and prevent underreporting,” along with inconsistency in issuing citations to late reporters. Further, OSHA “had limited assurance employers abated hazards properly,” the report states, leading OIG to conclude that the agency does not have enough information to direct its enforcement and compliance assistance actions.

According to OIG, auditors tested the reliability of data from 3,642 reported fatalities and 18,805 severe injuries from OSHA’s 10 regions from the start of 2015 through the end of September 2016. The auditors then compared the data against the fatality and injury data on the agency’s website. The results led to the following recommendations to OSHA:

  • Develop guidance and train staff on identifying underreporting.
  • Consistently issue citations to all late reporters.
  • Clarify guidance on gathering evidence to show employers have corrected all hazards, monitoring employer-conducted inspections and documenting essential decisions.
  • Conduct inspections on all Category 1 incidents.

OSHA disputed some of OIG’s recommendations in a letter from acting leader Loren Sweatt. Sweatt states that “OSHA agrees that better case documentation” could aid in promoting consistency in issuing citations, but expresses concern that the report suggests the “burden to ensure reporting of injuries and illnesses falls on the agency” instead of employers.

She also responds to each of the OIG recommendations and writes that, in certain instances, OSHA might learn about a failure to report after the six-month statute of limitations has expired, meaning the agency cannot issue a citation.

“OSHA commented on a number of the results and recommendations, but nothing in its response changed our report,” OIG countered.

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