By BECKY GILLETTE
Even with penalties of up to $7,000 for failure to report serious workplace injuries, a report by OSHA estimates that only about 50 percent of severe injuries in the U.S. are being reported within the required period. The revised rule that went into effect in January 2015 didn’t change previous requirements to report all work-related fatalities within eight hours, but it added a requirement to report all work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and loss of an eye within 24 hours to OSHA.
The failure to report may largely be an oversight, not intentional. Small businesses that didn’t fall under reporting requirement earlier may not be aware of a new law, even though there are plenty of opportunities out there for employers to get this information.
“Every time we do an outreach, whether giving speeches to various trade groups or employee associations, we bring up the fact that severe illnesses and injuries have to be reported within 24 yours,” said Eugene Stewart, area director for OSHA in Mississippi. “There is information on our website about the new reporting requirements. There are consultants out there relaying that information. There are quite a few avenues out there for employers to get this information or they can call the local OSHA office.”
Stewart said before the rule took effect, there was no requirement for employers to report an amputation or a hospitalization of an employee.
“There was no information shared with us about those incidents,” Stewart said. “We would get inquiries from the media asking about cases where people had been injured. Now because that information is required to be reported, we can respond and almost immediately make sure employers are taking steps to prevent those injuries and illnesses to employees. We also used to get complaints from injured employees regarding hospitalizations and amputations not being required to be reported.”
Stewart said the information helps OSHA to understand where problems are so they can be resolved.
An employee injury, of course, can be very traumatic for the employee. But it can also be devastating to any employer.
“We are not talking just about lost production or the loss of the services of that one employee,” Stewart said. “It is also going to have an big impact on the morale on other employees not involved in the incident. There is an effect on family members of employees who were injured. It can also have an effect on the community. A lot of employers prefer not to have negative publicity reflected on their place of business. The employer doesn’t want to be known as a place where you don’t want to work. It is in the employer’s best interest to make sure all safeguards are in place, employees are wearing all necessary safety equipment, and that workers are given the necessary safety training and education on how to do their job safely.”
OSHA said more reporting of accidents will significantly enhance the agency’s ability to target its resources to save lives and prevent further injury and illness. “This new data will enable the agency to identify the workplaces where workers are at the greatest risk and target compliance assistance and enforcement resources accordingly,” OSHA said.
OSHA said the rule is also intended to improve access by employers, employees, researchers and the public to information about workplace safety and health, and increase OSHA’s ability to identify and abate serious hazards.
The rule updates the list of industries that are exempt from the requirement to routinely keep OSHA injury and illness records due to relatively low occupational injury and illness rates. The previous list of industries was based on the old Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system and injury and illness data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) from 1996, 1997, and 1998. The new list of industries that are exempt from routinely keeping OSHA injury and illness records is based on the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and injury and illness data from BLS from 2007, 2008, and 2009.
Stewart said businesses with ten or fewer employees are not required to maintain OSHA records, but still have to report fatalities, amputations, and hospitalizations. The most common types of business that don’t have to keep OSHA record-keeping forms include drug stores, liquor stores, new and used car dealers, hardware stores, retail bakeries, insurance agents, real estate agents, barbershops and beauty shops, and general services.
Injuries can be reported by calling OSHA’s free and confidential number at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), by calling the closest area office during normal business hours (the number for the Jackson area office is 601-965-4606) or using a new Serious Event Reporting Online Form at https://www.osha.gov/pls/ser/serform.html.