Big Data: OSHA Is Poised to Create Massive Data Set of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

May 11, 2016
New federal requirements for injury data collection take effect August 10, will “nudge” employers to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

OSHA today issued a final rule to modernize injury data collection to better inform workers, employers, the public and OSHA about workplace hazards. With this new rule, the agency says it is applying the insights of behavioral economics to improve workplace safety and prevent injuries and illnesses. 

OSHA requires many employers to keep a record of injuries and illnesses to help these employers and their employees identify hazards, fix problems and prevent additional injuries and illnesses. The new regulation will require approximately 432,000 workplaces with 20-249 employees in high hazard industries and 34,000 workplaces with more than 250 employees to upload injury and illness data or summaries to OSHA on an annual basis. To put it into perspective, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels explained there are 7 to 8 million workplaces in the United States, with 1.3 million of them required by OSHA to track injuries and illnesses.

“This is valuable information,” said Michaels during a press call. “[OSHA] Logs may be seen by only a handful of people at that workplace and, possibly, an OSHA inspector.” The new rule, he said, will create a huge data set that can be used for many purposes, including tracking trends and providing employers with a tool they can use to benchmark against other companies in their industries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 3 million workers suffer a workplace injury or illness every year. Currently, little or no information about worker injuries and illnesses at individual employers is made public or available to OSHA. Under the new rule, employers in high-hazard industries will send OSHA injury and illness data that the employers already are required to collect, and it will be posted on the agency’s website.

OSHA compares the public posting of workplace injuries and illnesses to the public disclosure of restaurants’ sanitary conditions, claiming public restaurant ratings encourage restaurant owners to improve food safety.

“How many of us are willing to eat in a restaurant that an inspector has given an ‘F,’ or even a ‘C?’” asked Michaels during a press call on May 11. He said OSHA expects that public disclosure of work injury data will encourage employers to increase their efforts to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. 

“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities.”

Michaels also says that access to injury data will help OSHA better target its compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at greatest risk, and enable “big data” researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer.

Big Data and Predictive Analytics

According to OSHA, the availability of these data will enable prospective employees to identify workplaces where their risk of injury is lowest; as a result, employers competing to hire the best workers will make injury prevention a higher priority. Access to these data will also enable employers to benchmark their safety and health performance against industry leaders, to improve their own safety programs. 

To ensure that the injury data on OSHA logs are accurate and complete, the final rule also promotes an employee’s right to report injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation, and clarifies that an employer must have a reasonable procedure for reporting work-related injuries that does not discourage employees from reporting. This aspect of the rule targets employer programs and policies that, while nominally promoting safety, have the effect of discouraging workers from reporting injuries and, in turn leading to incomplete or inaccurate records of workplace hazards.

Using data collected under the new rule, OSHA will create the largest publicly available data set on work injuries and illnesses, enabling researchers to better study injury causation, identify new workplace safety hazards before they become widespread and evaluate the effectiveness of injury and illness prevention activities. OSHA will remove all personally identifiable information associated with the data before it is publicly accessible.

Under the new rule, all establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation must electronically submit to OSHA injury and illness information from OSHA Forms 300, 300A and 301. Establishments with 20-249 employees in certain high hazard industries must electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A only.

The new requirements take effect Aug. 10, with phased-in data submissions beginning in 2017. These requirements do not add to or change an employer’s obligation to complete and retain injury and illness records under the Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses regulation.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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