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OSHA looks to reassure employers on reporting injuries under new rules

Posted On: Dec. 23, 2015 12:00 AM CST

Federal safety officials will not use information generated by employers in what are known as rapid response investigation reports to issue citations and fines — a major concern expressed by employers and their representatives.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's revised reporting requirements under its severe injury reporting rule, which are effective Jan. 1, keep the mandate that all workplace fatalities be reported within eight hours.

New requirements include that employers report the hospitalization of a single employee — rather than three or more employees as previously required — as well as all amputations and loss of an eye within 24 hours of management learning of the incidents.

Of more than 10,000 reports filed to date, less than 40% resulted in on-site inspections, while 50% resulted in a rapid response investigation that requests more information about the incident and the employer's corrective action.

Employers and their representatives have expressed concern the information generated by rapid response investigation reports would be used to issue citations and fines against employers. However, David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health in Washington said in a recent interview that the agency has not done so and has no plans to do so.

“We're looking at that very carefully now because we want to be able to assure employers that they can be totally open with us without repercussions,” he said. “We're working on developing a policy now that provides that assurance.”

In an emailed response to a question, OSHA stated unequivocally that the information would not be used when issuing citations or fines. The agency may decide to conduct an inspection based on the nature of the event and the sufficiency of the response. If that occurs, OSHA will use that inspection information to determine whether citations should be issued, according to the agency.

OSHA expects inspections resulting from severe injuries to account for a much larger share of overall citations going forward.

Mr. Michaels said both the on-site inspections and the rapid response investigations have been valuable.

“In places where we decided to inspect, we've found very hazardous conditions and situations which really needed some intervention, and we issued, in some cases, very large fines,” Mr. Michaels said.

“For even more cases, we engaged the employer and we told the employer, 'We would prefer not to inspect; we'd like you to investigate the root causes of the incident and tell us what you've learned and how you plan to abate the hazard and we don't have to inspect.' That's been going on now for almost 12 months, and we've been very pleased. We think we're having a big impact on more places of work without us inspecting than we've ever had,” Mr. Michaels said.

OSHA expects to receive about 12,000 injury and illness reports by the end of the year under its revised reporting requirements — a number that will fall far short of the total reports employers should be filing, Mr. Michaels said.

“I think as more employers know that they have to notify us when there is a severe injury, I think we'll see more reports,” he said.