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OSHA toughens injury reporting requirements

Posted On: Sep. 28, 2014 12:00 AM CST

Employers are not convinced stricter federal requirements on reporting workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses will greatly improve workplace safety, but they say they will spend more time and money on compliance.

Effective Jan. 1, 2015, companies will be required to report all work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and eye losses within 24 hours, according to a revised safety rule the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced earlier this month.

OSHA's intention was to broaden the safety reporting requirement. The agency began that effort in 2011, the year after U.S. work-related fatalities jumped from 4,551 in 2009 to 4,690 in 2010.

Now, employers must report in-patient hospitalizations only if three or more employees are affected; amputations or eye losses do not have to be reported. Unchanged is the requirement that employers report work-related fatalities within eight hours.

If OSHA uses the additional information to develop safety programs to reduce workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses, “there's an obvious benefit,” said Jim Thornton, director of environmental health and safety at Newport News, Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., a shipbuilding company with more than 39,000 employees globally.

“As a safety professional, I would hope that the agency gets something out of this for the effort that employers are going to expend complying with this new standard,” Mr. Thornton said.

With more cases to report, “there will be time spent and costs spent on training to some degree,” said Amanda Wood, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.

Mr. Thornton said Huntington Ingalls already has designated people to make such reports to OSHA, but said he expects it will be necessary to train employees on how to submit fatality, injury and illness reports electronically, which is a new option under the revised rule.

“For a little bit, (the new rule) will require employers to keep up with the clock and see if the eight hours has gone by or if the 24 hours has gone by,” Mr. Thornton said. “It will be a bit more challenging and certainly added work for employers. There's no question about that.”

OSHA realizes the stricter reporting requirements will add work and cost, said Dave Schmidt, director of OSHA's Office of Statistical Analysis in Washington.

“Any regulation that OSHA issues has costs associated with it for the regulated community,” Mr. Schmidt said.

OSHA estimates it will take about 30 minutes to gather the required information for each incident and report it, Mr. Schmidt said.

He estimated that if 120,000 additional reports are generated nationally, and if the person making the report makes about $40 an hour, the reports could cost employers about $2.6 million nationwide.

“So that's a pretty small cost when you spread it over all the employers that are required to do this,” Mr. Schmidt said.

Now, OSHA receives 3,000 to 4,000 reports a year for fatalities and catastrophes resulting in three or more employees being hospitalized, he said.

Considering the number of reports received in the six states — Alaska, California, Kentucky, Oregon, Utah and Washington — that already require employers to report single in-patient hospitalizations, Mr. Schmidt said OSHA determined it could receive about 25,000 reports each year under the revised rule.

In looking at other data, such as hospital discharge numbers, the number of reports could “range all the way up to 120,000” reports annually, he said. “We know we're going to get a lot more. What we don't know is the magnitude of it.”

“It really does boil down to time, in that this will put more injuries and events in the OSHA investigation queue,” said John Andrus, director of promotions, policies and safety programs for Southwest Airlines Co. in Dallas. “There is a cost to (OSHA on-site investigations) because you have to take people off-line to escort them, and then there's always the potential for findings.”

While OSHA doesn't have the staff to conduct many more on-site investigations than it does now, the intention is OSHA will interact with employers in some way for every report, which might affect the types of investigations it conducts, Mr. Schmidt said.

“We conduct a lot of complaint inspections now,” he said.

“We conduct fatality catastrophic inspections. We conduct referral inspections. And we also conduct what we call programmed inspections, which is where, without an event happening, we'll select places to go out and inspect. There might be a little bit of change in distribution from the programmed inspections to maybe some more of these, but that we won't know until the reports starting rolling in here.”