Charles N. Jeffress, head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), confirmed Sept. 14 that there is no way companies can prepare for the agency's revised injury and illness recordkeeping rule by Jan. 1, 2000.
Because final rule revisions will not be out for a few more months, the standard will not be effective until Jan. 1, 2001, Jeffress announced at the 15th annual National VPPPA Conference.
"I'm admitting we're not going to get there," Jeffress said of 2000 implementation after he spoke at the opening session of the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association conference in Washington, D.C.
The date when workplaces must have their revised rulemaking systems in place was extended a year, as opposed to several months, because of the need for those data systems to switch at the beginning of a calendar year, Jeffress said.
Release of the final rule, which was proposed in 1996, has been further delayed because of the difficulty in balancing the issues of privacy and employee protection of data, Jeffress said.
"We want people to have their injuries logged so employers and employee representatives will know what happened and keep that from happening again," he said. "On the other hand, with certain kinds of injuries and illnesses, some employees are sensitive about their health information becoming public knowledge. That balance has been more difficult to negotiate. There were more people to be consulted. I wanted to make sure it was done right."
The revision will have fewer changes than originally proposed and will improve clarity on many issues, said Bob Burt of OSHA's directorate of safety standards programs. In addition, the new rule will include improved and tested recordkeeping forms, Burt added.
One reason OSHA is revising the recordkeeping rule is to clear up questions about the work-relatedness of an injury or illness. This would be done by adding new exemptions to the presumption that an injury on company premises is a product of the job. The agency also proposed eliminating the distinction between injuries and illnesses.
Other major issues include deciding when needlesticks should be recorded; how to treat restricted work, such as whether it should count as a lost workday statistic; and the definition of a recordable musculoskeletal disorder incident.
The rule change is expected to broaden small-business exemptions. The lower limit employers with 10 or fewer workers do not have to record cases would be changed to 19 or fewer, but only for nonconstruction firms. Other proposed changes include exempting industries with low injury and illness rates.
Major developments in two other significant OSHA standards are expected in the next several weeks.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should be done reviewing the agency's proposed ergonomics standard by the end of September. Once OMB is done, OSHA will answer any concerns and publish the proposal in the Federal Register by the end of October, Jeffress said. At least three hearings around the country would be held in early 2000, with a goal of issuing a final standard by the end of next year.
The safety and health (S&H) programs standard is undergoing revision and analysis, Burt said. The OMB review is expected to begin in December, with publication of a proposed rule in April. Hearings would be in summer 2000.