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Senators Call for GAO Report on OSHA's Injury and Illness Auditing

In an April 22 letter, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether OSHA effectively ensures that employers are providing accurate workplace injury and illness reports.

Specifically, the senators asked GAO to evaluate OSHA's efforts to ensure that employers are properly recording injuries and illnesses and assess the trends in the number and types of OSHA recordkeeping audits, among other recommendations. They expressed concern that underreporting injury and illness rates has become more prevalent in recent years, and that OSHA's effort to monitor the accuracy of these reports significantly has diminished.

The legislators aren't alone in questioning OSHA's efforts to adequately verify these reported injury and illness rates. In a March 2008 interview with Occupational Hazards, Bob Whitmore, a Department of Labor expert for OSHA recordkeeping litigation since the mid-1980s, claimed the agency has turned a blind eye to underreporting from companies in high-hazard industries.

In addition, a six-part series from the Charlotte Observer on worker safety in the poultry industry pointed out that House of Raeford Farms, a North Carolina-based poultry company, covered up the extent of injuries inside its plants. The Observer claimed it obtained injury logs for four House of Raeford plants and found the company failed to record at least a dozen injuries.

OSHA uses the employer-provided illness and injury information to determine which companies to inspect, a process some safety advocates say creates an incentive for underreporting. For this reason, Murray and Kennedy said OSHA must be more proactive in regulating industries and verifying injury and illness report claims. He and Murray provided GAO with recommendations for a report to assess OSHA's recordkeeping audits.

“I want the GAO to take a good hard look at injury and illness reporting because frankly, it's a system that seems all too easy to game,” Murray said.

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