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OSHA naming some workers comp insurers in employer safety citations

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

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is ramping up efforts to draw attention to workplace injuries and illnesses by disclosing more information on employers' workplace safety records and naming their workers comp insurers.

The agency has publicly disclosed citations and fines above $40,000, with several recent news releases including the names of the cited employers' workers compensation insurers — a new practice by OSHA, according to observers.

Insurers that have been named so far have not commented on the citations and fines against their clients.

“For some companies, the damage to their corporate image may be more of a deterrent than the fines OSHA may issue,” the agency said in an emailed response to an inquiry from Business Insurance. “Likewise, we recognize that workers compensation insurers can have a role in influencing companies to implement safety and health management systems and reduce the risk to employees. By including these insurers in the press release, OSHA hopes to encourage them to have a more active role in addressing the hazards.”

The agency has also issued news releases about citations and fines below that $40,000 threshold in novel situations when it feels it is very important to get the word out about specific risks, said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health in Washington. For example, OSHA has publicized citations and fines in the $2,000-$3,000 range against hair salons performing Brazilian blowouts because of the formaldehyde exposure and received more media coverage about these citations because of the public interest, he said.

OSHA's controversial proposal to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses features the agency's intent to make the information public via a searchable database — a major source of complaints by employers and their representatives, who are concerned about the misuse of such information. The rule is not yet finalized, but is scheduled for completion in March.

“We know that public disclosure changes behavior,” Mr. Michaels said in a recent interview.

He likened this effort to cities that require restaurants to publicly post the grades they receive for their cleanliness, which affects customer decisions about whether to dine there.

“We think disclosure of injury rates will likely have a similar effect on employers because no one wants to be known as an unsafe employer,” Mr. Michaels said. “It will be hard for them to attract good employees. It will tell their customers that it's a poorly managed company.”