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On The Record

It seems that the folks over at the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) are playing hardball when it comes to workplace safety. On May 12 of this year, OSHA published the final rule for electronic recording keeping, set to go into effect on August 10. The rule requires injury and illness data to be submitted to OSHA. Once submitted, OSHA will remove as much personal information as they can and then publish the report in a searchable database on their website. The hope is that this will put pressure on employers to be more accountable for the safety of their employees. Many are upset and feel that this information will be used to publically shame companies, and OSHA is not denying it.

“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace,” said OSHA Administrator 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.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than three million workers suffer a workplace injury or illness each year. OSHA requires that many employers keep a record of injuries and illnesses to help them identify possible hazards and fix issues on their own. However, OSHA has never been privy to that information, nor has it ever been made public. With the implementation of this new rule, employers are required to send in the reports they already to collect, straight to OSHA for publication on their website. Just like a D rating from the health department hanging in a restaurant’s window encourages them to get it together, OSHA hopes that making these records a little more transparent will light a fire under many employers.

However, it should come as no surprise that employers in the construction industry are less than pleased with this new rule. Many felt that making injury data public would not only expose private company information, but it will also only provide one side of the company’s safety story.

“OSHA created a rule that does nothing to achieve its stated goal of reducing workplace injuries and illnesses and ignored the concerns from industry that this rulemaking will have unintended negative consequences,” said Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Vice President of Health, Safety, Environment and Workforce Development Greg Sizemore in a statement. “Associated Builders and Contractors is committed to working with our members and OSHA to create safe construction work environments. However, in departing from its current ’no fault’ recordkeeping system, OSHA has empowered itself to disseminate records and data to the public that fails to show the complete narrative of a company’s safety record or its efforts to promote a safe work environment.”

Sizemore went on to say that OSHA has exceeded its authority by forcing companies to reveal confidential business information to the public. In the past OSHA has recognized sensitive information, such as the amount of hours worked on a project by employees, as privileged and confidential. However, Sizemore feels that with these new requirements, OSHA will give competitors undue access to business processes that should remain confidential.

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Regardless of the backlash from employers, OSHA has not backed down. They asserted that this rule is a good thing because it allows them to provide more data to their researchers, who will in turn be able to study injury causation, identify new workplace safety hazards before they become widespread and evaluate the effectiveness of injury and illness prevention activities.

Under the new rule, companies with 250 or more employees in industries covered by record keeping regulation must electronically submit injury and illness information to OSHA using OSHA Forms 300, 300A and 301. Establishments with 20-249 employees must electronically submit information with OSHA Form 300A only.

Though these new regulations may draw the ire of employers, OSHA operates with the best interest of employees in mind. In fact, in addition to the requirements to submit information electronically, it also supports the employee’s right to report injuries and illnesses without the fear of retaliation. The rule clarifies that an employer must have a reasonable procedure for reporting workplace injuries that does not discourage employees from reporting. According to OSHA, this 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.

As construction is one of the most dangerous jobs there is, this rule gives some hope that perhaps those rates of injury will go down in the near future, even if it takes a little public shaming to get there. The new requirements will take effect on August 10, with phased in data submissions beginning in 2017.

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