OSHA Outlook for Small Business: More Injuries, More Reporting

Small businesses are being advised to expect more employee injuries in 2004, and to make sure they are using the legally correct OSHA forms for recording them.

Smaller firms must be prepared for the new forms and take active measures to reduce the risk of workplace injuries, says Christopher Lindekugel, compliance director for workplace safety and labor law experts G.Neil Corp., or they run the risk of OSHA fines, employee medical bills and workers' compensation costs.

"When workers are well-trained and know what they're doing, the injury rate is lower because their knowledge and experience reduce the risk of danger," he explained. "As the economy grows, there will be more and more people performing unfamiliar jobs, so the risk of accidents and injuries will be much greater."

OSHA requires firms with 11 or more employees (except those in certain low-risk industries such as finance and real estate) to maintain a log and summary of all recordable work-related injuries and illnesses. In 2003, OSHA cited U.S. employers for 83,760 safety and health violations, Lindekugel said, an increase of almost 8 percent from 2002. Almost 60,000 of the violations were termed "serious" by the agency, an increase of 11 percent from 2002.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that U.S. workers missed 1.46 million days of productive time because of on-the-job injuries in 2001, he added. Multiply that by the National Safety Council's estimated cost to an employer of $29,000 per incident, and the total for the year is almost $70 billion.

Lindekugel also pointed out that covered employers need to make sure they're using the proper documentation to record workplace incidents, because "businesses that don't follow the regs can be subject to citations and fines," said Lindekugel.

OSHA's Form 300, a daily log of workplace injuries and illnesses for a calendar year, has several revisions this year, including a new column covering hearing loss. Additionally, the posting dates for the 2004 Form 300A were extended for two more months.

"s experts in workplace compliance and safety, we are constantly monitoring OSHA and other federal agencies," Lindekugel said. "We know you can't be careless about OSHA and workplace safety. We're a business with employees, too."

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