OSHA Publishes Final Recordkeeping Rule

OSHA published the final recordkeeping rule, and it may contain some surprises.

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its final rule on Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements in today''s Federal Register.

In January 2001, OSHA published revisions to its rule on recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses (29 CFR parts 1904 and 1952) that were scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2002. The rule published in today''s Federal Register contains several changes from what was originally proposed.

OSHA announced it is delaying the effective date of three sections of the rule and is establishing interim criteria for recording cases of work-related hearing loss. The provisions being delayed include those that:

  • Specify recording criteria involving occupational hearing loss (Secs. 1904.10(a) and (b));
  • Define "musculoskeletal disorder" (MSD) and requires employers to check the MSD column on the OSHA Log if an employee experiences a work-related musculoskeletal disorder (Sec. 1904.12); and
  • State that MSDs are not considered privacy concern cases (Sec. 1904.29(b)(7)(vi)).

The effective date of these provisions is delayed from Jan. 1, 2002 until Jan. 1, 2003. OSHA will continue to evaluate Secs. 1904.10 and 1904.12 over the next year.

The agency is also adding a new paragraph (c) to Sec. 1904.10, which will establish criteria for recording cases of work-related hearing loss during calendar year 2002. Section 1904.10(c) codifies the enforcement policy in effect since 1991, under which employers must record work-related shifts in hearing of an average of 25dB or more at 2000, 3000 and 4000 hertz in either ear.

Some background on the changes found in the final rule: On July 3, 2001, the agency proposed to delay the effective date of the sections that specify recording criteria for cases involving occupational hearing loss and work-related MSDs until Jan. 1, 2003.

In that notice, the agency explained that, as a result of the regulatory review instituted at the start of the Bush Administration, it was reconsidering the requirement to record a case involving an occupational hearing loss averaging 10dB or more. OSHA said that there were reasons to question the appropriateness of 10dB as the recording criterion, and asked for comment on other approaches and criteria, including recording losses averaging 15, 20 or 25dB.

While a number of commenters agreed with the decision to reconsider a standard threshold shift of 10dB as an indication of a recordable injury, some such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the AFL-CIO, disagreed.

In its comment to the agency, the AFL-CIO argued that the requirement to record a 10dB hearing loss on the OSHA Log would aid in the early detection and prevention of occupational hearing loss.

"Recording a 10 dB STS on Form 300 is a practical and reasonable means to assist in the early detection of a loss in hearing so that workplace intervention measures can be implemented to protect workers from the hazards of noise. Having employers continue to record shifts in hearing of an average of 25 dB is too high a threshold of loss in hearing acuity to be sufficiently proactive in preventing worker hearing loss," wrote the AFL-CIO.

OSHA was not swayed by such arguments. The agency countered, saying, "Congress intended the recordkeeping system to capture non-minor injuries and illnesses. OSHA is reconsidering the finding that a 10dB shift in hearing acuity represents such a health condition." Adding that it "intends to resolve this issue based on all the available evidence," OSHA said there is sufficient question concerning the appropriateness of 10dB as a recording threshold "to justify a limited delay in implementing" that section of the recordkeeping rule. Employers should continue to record hearing loss cases during that year using the 25dB criterion listed in OSHA''s 1991 enforcement policy.

Also in July, OSHA said it was reconsidering the section that required employers check the MSD column on the OSHA Log for a case involving a "musculoskeletal disorder" as defined in that section. The agency claimed it was "premature to implement the new definition of MSD...before considering the views of business, labor and the public health community on the problem of ergonomic hazards."

OSHA also voiced concern that it would create "confusion and uncertainty" to require employers to implement the new MSD definition while Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao was developing a comprehensive plan to address ergonomic hazards and holding forums to determine how to define an ergonomic injury.

OSHA noted, however, that the proposed delay does not affect the employer''s obligation to record all injuries and illnesses, including musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses, which meet the criteria of the rule, regardless of whether a particular injury or illness would meet the definition of an MSD included in the rule.

For more information about the recordkeeping rule, see the article "Recordkeeping: OSHA Tries to Make it Simple" in the September issue of Occupational Hazards magazine or read it online at www.occupationalhazards.com/news/news_loader.asp?articleid=43042.

by Sandy Smith

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