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OSHA issues final electronic recordkeeping rule for injuries

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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued its controversial final rule on Wednesday to expand electronic recordkeeping requirements for workplace injuries and illnesses and make such records publicly available.

The new rule, effective Jan. 1, 2017, requires certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness data that they are already required to record on their on-site OSHA Injury and Illness forms. Establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation — as well as those with 20 to 249 employees in high-risk industries such as agriculture, forestry, construction and manufacturing — must submit information on their 2016 injuries and illnesses by July 1, 2017, and their 2017 information by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019, the information must be submitted by March 2.

OSHA said analysis of the information will enable the agency to use its enforcement and compliance assistance resources more efficiently and will make some of the data publicly available on the OSHA website. Currently, little or no information about injuries and illnesses at individual employers is made public or available to OSHA, according to the agency. But the agency likened its plans to publicly post injury and illness data to requirements for restaurants to display information about evaluations on their sanitary conditions.

“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, said in a statement. “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. Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target our 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.”

Industries balk at rule

However, stakeholders have consistently pushed back against the rule. The Coalition for Workplace Safety issued a statement shortly after the release of the final rule on Wednesday calling it an “ill-advised and poorly written regulation (that) will only result in more regulatory burden with no guarantees to improve workplace safety.”

“Without authority to do so, OSHA intends to post employer-, location- and incident-specific injury data,” Coalition for Workplace Safety co-Chairs Marc Freedman and Amanda Wood said in a statement. “The (coalition) is especially concerned about the damage that could come from the disclosure of sensitive and proprietary information — which companies go to great lengths to protect. Just as troubling will be the mischaracterization that will result when incidents, such as bee stings, slips and falls, and even heart attacks that do not reflect an employer's safety culture are posted.”

The Virginia-based coalition is made up of a number of associations, including the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“This rule reverses OSHA's long-standing approach that permitted employers to record injuries without fear of disclosure and therefore use the OSHA recordkeeping process as an internal management tool,” they continued. “Publicizing this data makes the mere recording of any injury an act of disclosure with associated negative impacts.”

In keeping with OSHA's focus on preventing retaliation against employees who report injuries and illnesses, the final rule specifically bars employers from retaliating against employees and mandates that their procedures for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and must not deter or discourage reporting. These provisions become effective Aug. 10, 2016.