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Contractors face stricter injury reporting as OSHA tightens rules

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Construction companies with comprehensive safety programs likely already are in compliance with stricter federal injury and accident reporting requirements that come into force next year. But some new municipal reporting requirements in New York may be more challenging, construction risk management experts say.

Beginning Jan. 1, construction contractors and other employers nationwide must report all jobsite fatalities, hospitalizations, amputations and eye injuries to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration within 24 hours of the incident.

Under current federal law, employers are required to notify OSHA only in the event of a worksite fatality or an accident in which three or more employees are hospitalized.

Construction risk management experts say the revised notification rules are intended primarily to increase the volume of injury reports OSHA receives from contractors and add more detail to the reports in an effort to enhance tracking and analysis of worksite injuries.

The extent to which construction contractors will see more OSHA site inspections or enforcement actions as a consequence of the revised rules will depend largely on the quality of their jobsite safety programs, experts say.

“I don't see the new requirements being that big of a deal for us, but I also believe that we're a very proactive general contractor that does a very good job of analyzing and mitigating the risks on our jobsites,” said Bart Wilder, corporate safety director at Hoar Construction L.L.C. in Birmingham, Alabama. “If you're proactive, and you have safety programs and processes that have been embraced throughout your company, then you're probably managing the risks without necessarily having to worry about OSHA to begin with.”

Although contractors said the level of specificity contained within revised notification requirements is more detailed than the current regulation, they also said there are potentially troublesome ambiguities in the rules' definitions and provisions, particularly those relating to amputations.

“Even if it's the very tip of someone's finger, that would still be considered an amputation at this point under the new regulations, and it would have to be reported,” said Maria Matamoros, vice president of risk management at the Weitz Company L.L.C. in Des Moines, Iowa.

Still, Ms. Matamoros said, “those kinds of injuries aren't something that we see a lot of on a day-to-day or even month-to-month basis.”

“If we're doing everything we have to do from a safety management perspective and our purpose remains to keep our employees safe, we don't anticipate any major impacts.”

In addition to the new federal injury reporting requirements, contractors in New York City should prepare for the implementation of expanded incident reporting rules that will take effect Dec. 31 under the 2014 NYC Construction Codes, the first comprehensive revision of the city's administrative, building, mechanical, fuel gas and plumbing regulations in nearly 50 years.

Under the revised codes, contractors operating in New York will be required to notify the New York City Department of Buildings of any work-related injury needing off-site medical treatment, even if the treatment is minor and/or the injured worker or workers are able to return to work immediately afterward.

“That's going to be a bit more of a challenge for New York City contractors, because the city's DOB is a little more aggressive than OSHA, and they have the ability to stop work on a dime ...,” said Robert Azarian, safety and loss control leader at Willis North America Inc. in New York. “But the DOB has been clear that they're not doing this just to slow projects down, and that they're aim is to improve their understanding of incident trends in the city.”

Mr. Azarian said one way for contractors to limit their exposure to the city's revised notification requirements is to invest in and require the use of on-premises medical staff for the initial treatment of injuries at their jobsites.

“The use of on-site medics is becoming more and more popular, especially as a contractual condition with the larger construction insurance programs,” he said. “It helps you control the claim and the potential loss from the start.”

Experts said contractors should also inform their personnel of new rules within the 2014 Construction Codes requiring contractors to notify the Department of Buildings of incidents resulting in damage to properties adjacent to their worksites.

Under the city's previous regulations, property owners themselves bore the responsibility for reporting damage to their buildings caused by construction or demolition operations on adjacent lots.

“It's certainly something that's going to come to the forefront, and something that's going to require a lot of additional activity and information on the part of contractors when they're performing adjacent construction,” said Larry Bartelemucci, chair of the real estate and construction practice group at Anderson Kill P.C. in New York. “It also creates a database for the DOB, and I would imagine that a consequence of that is that you'll begin to see contractors denied building permits based on the information collected. I think that's where a lot of this reporting is going to go.”