Under the current OSHA recordkeeping regulation 29 CFR 1904, employers are required to maintain an accurate record of workplace injuries and illnesses. Information contained in these records is important in helping OSHA identify workplace hazards and implementing protections to reduce risks within the workplace.1 Recording and reporting a work-related injury “does not mean that the employer or employee was at fault ” or that an OSHA rule has been violated.2 It is simply meant to inform OSHA, employers, and employees of potential hazards. Exceptions to this rule include employers with fewer than 10 full time employees and some low-risk industries such as retail, finance, insurance or real-estate.1 However, all employers must report incidents leading to a fatality or the hospitalization of three or more employees.3 A proposed rule amends 29 CFR 1904.41 to add three new electronic reporting methods. The comment period for this proposed rule expired on October 14, 2014 and is now in the final stages of the rule-making process.Order now
This proposed rule amends 29 CFR 1904 in the following ways: first, employers with over 250 employees in the previous calendar year will be required to submit electronic records every quarter. Second, employers with over 20 employees in the last calendar year will be required to electronically submit their reports annually. Lastly, all employers that keep injury and illness records are required to submit these records electronically.4 Much of this information will be made publically available. Advocates of these changes say it will help OSHA select employers that need consultations, allow companies to compare themselves to other companies, help prospective employees make informed decisions as to where they want to work and allow employees to verify that their reports were submitted. Opponents label these changes as “public shaming” and argue that it will do little to improve employee safety in the workplace.
Maine’s Department of Labor has commented that the proposed rule has potential to embarrass both workers and employees who have been involved in workplace accidents.5 Small businesses are at the highest risk for employee embarrassment since there are only a few employees at each location. Publically available information from these reports can then be pieced together to identify the worker involved in the accident even though the name may not be posted.5
Furthermore, concerns were brought forward during the public hearing that the proposed rule could result in under-reporting of injuries and illnesses due to records being posted publically on the OSHA website.6 other opponents added that the rule could lead to employers adopting practices that discourage workers from reporting accidents. Examples include mandatory drug-testing after an incident, time periods for reporting accidents, and disciplining employees who are repeat offenders or choose not to follow the company’s safety procedures. Although it can be argued that these policies are commonly used policies to maintain a safe workplace, employers can use these policies to deter worker reporting; therefore, fewer incidents will be publically available on OSHA’s 300 form.
OSHA’s underlying goal with this proposed rule is to hold employers more accountable for workplace accidents by making their performance more transparent to the public. This certainly can affect management behavior since online reviews are becoming more and more noticeable.4 However, caution must be taken in presenting this information to the public. Will the average person be able to compare industry to industry or one site to another effectively? Will the average Joe be able to truly understand and identify poor performing companies and better performing companies, or will assumptions be made just because injuries are publically listed out of context?
If passed, the additional data received from this amendment could be valuable when analyzed appropriately. But often times the raw data misrepresents the actual workplace environment by leaving out critical qualitative information. Unfortunately, the confidentiality of the individual could be jeopardized if too much information is publically available. From the information provided by OSHA, it is unclear whether the root-causes of injuries or illnesses will be included with the publically accessible data; if so, the issue of confidentiality must be first addressed. However, if only qualitative data (such as the number of incidents) is reported online, viewers may incorrectly interpret a work environment to be high-risk when in reality it would be considered only low to moderate risk. Understanding whether an injury was due to employee negligence or intoxication is much different from employer negligence and should be branded as such.
OSHA has made these changes believing that the new reporting methods will make the system simpler, easier to use and understand as well as to update the data on which the system is based.5 The revisions of the final rule will increase consistency in statistics and reporting methods. Additionally, it will decrease the burden on employers, reduce paperwork and boost the cost-effectiveness of the rule. 7