Safety and risk management organizations are concerned that OSHA's proposed rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, will encourage employers to underreport injuries and illnesses.

Safety and Risk Management Groups Have Concerns About OSHA’s Proposed Reporting Rule

March 13, 2014
Proposed rule would require 38,000 establishments with more than 250 employees to electronically submit the records on a quarterly basis to OSHA. ASSE urges OSHA to withdraw the rule. AIHA concerned cost estimates are too low and that employers will underreport injuries. RIMS says the rule will misrepresent employers' safety records.

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and RIMS, the Risk Management Society, are urging OSHA to withdraw its electronic reporting proposed rule, while the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) stops short of asking the agency to withdraw the proposed rule but does indicate it has concerns about the rule.

OSHA’s proposed rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, already has proved controversial, with the agency extending the comment period by 30 days at the request of the National Association of Home Builders. The rule would amend OSHA's current recordkeeping regulations to require the nation’s 38,000 establishments with more than 250 employees (and that already are required to keep records) to electronically submit the records on a quarterly basis to OSHA. The 440,000 U.S. companies with more than 20 employees but fewer than 250 that are in certain industries with high injury and illness rates would be required to electronically submit their summary of work-related injuries and illnesses to OSHA once a year.

“In our comments submitted for the record, ASSE urged OSHA to withdraw its proposed rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, until the agency develops clearer objectives and a stronger rationale for requiring establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit each quarter injury and illness records and each year summary data,” said ASSE President Kathy Seabrook, CSP, CMIOSH, EurOSHM. 

“ASSE does not believe OSHA has explained adequately how collecting the information will actually improve workplace safety, or how OSHA will manage the information once it is collected.,” she added. “ASSE believes publishing the information collected will make more difficult the efforts of safety professionals to focus companies on preventing hazards instead of reporting injuries.”

AIHA expressed similar concerns, with President Barbara J. Dawson, CIH, CSP, telling OSHA in AIHA’s comments, “AIHA has some concern that shifting resources from prevention activities to data management in all size establishments would be detrimental to making the workplace safer.”

In announcing the proposed rule, OSHA stated that “with the proposed changes being proposed in this rule, employers, employees, the government and researchers will have better access to data that will encourage earlier abatement of hazards and result in improved programs to reduce workplace hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities.  The proposed rule does not add any new requirement to keep records; it only modifies an employer’s obligation to transmit these records to OSHA.”

AIHA acknowledges the need to encourage employers to reduce injuries and illnesses in the workplace and agrees that 3 million workers per year getting hurt, sick or killed in the workplace is too many, said Dawson. “ There is a continuing need to increase the focus of senior managers on injury and illness processes, the resulting data, and encourage both employers and employees alike to ‘do the right thing’ for their colleagues,” she said.

She noted that AIHA supports the use of technology that would make the reporting requirements much easier and timelier, but said the organization has concerns that requiring electronic reporting and posting the data online could result in some employers underreporting injuries and illnesses. 

“We are sure this is not the intent of the proposed rule and hope this would not be an unfortunate result of OSHA’s intent.  This concern might be addressed by other commenters,” said Dawson.

AIHA said members had concerns that the cost estimates for implementation were too low, and that posting the date could result in business trade secret and individual privacy concerns. 

On a positive note, the association said that disclosure of the information should increase the focus of senior managers and employees alike on injury and illness data and as a result, should increase efforts to protect workers. It should also enable employers to benchmark against others in their industry and “help identify solid performers who might help others upgrade their processes and outcomes,” said Dawson.

In its comments, RIMS said the proposed OSHA rule would have an adverse effect on organizations’ risk management practices, adding that inaccurate safety ratings and reporting redundancies topped its list of concerns.

In an official comment letter submitted to OSHA, RIMS said the rule would force risk practitioners to duplicate their recordkeeping and data submission responsibilities.  In its letter, RIMS proposes that an effort should be made to accept data submitted through the current Electronic Data Interchange system.

“While the intent of the rule, to ensure workplace safety for employees, is critical, the information being required from organizations would be incomplete. It would promote organizations to stop tracking minor incidents and, essentially, lead to the misrepresentation of many employers’ safety records,” said RIMS President Carolyn Snow.  “We appreciate the administration’s effort to increase transparency and look forward to working with them to develop a more effective and efficient solution.”

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