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OSHA says injury report tally falls short in first year of revised rule

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Employers reported more than 10,000 severe injuries in the first year of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's revised reporting rule, far short of the number that should have been reported, according to the agency.

The rule that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, maintained a requirement that all workplace fatalities be reported within eight hours, but broadened a requirement to inform the agency of certain severe injuries and hospitalizations within 24 hours of management learning of the incidents.

In the first full year of the program, employers reported 10,388 severe injuries, including 7,636 hospitalizations and 2,644 amputations, according to a report released by the agency on Thursday — a number that falls short of a 12,000-report projection by the agency.

“OSHA believes that many severe injuries — perhaps 50% or more — are not being reported,” a belief partly based on injury claim numbers provided by state workers compensation programs, Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said in the report.

The majority of first-year reports were filed by large employers, particularly in the construction and manufacturing industries, according to OSHA. On the hospitalization side, 26% of the reports were filed by employers in the manufacturing sector, while 19% were filed by those in the construction industry — the largest sources of reports. Manufacturers were also responsible for 57% of the amputation reports filed with the agency.

“Those people are the ones who know what's going on with OSHA because they've been putting up with this forever,” said Valerie Butera, a Washington-based member of the labor and employment practice of Epstein Becker & Green P.C. “Michaels believes that people just don't know about the rule, so he intends on doing all kinds of outreach to help employers learn that all employers have to do this reporting if the incident qualifies. It will be interesting to see how successful they're going to be with their outreach and education programs.”

Some employers are also choosing not to report because they perceive the cost of not reporting to be low, Mr. Michaels said. However, OSHA is more likely to cite employers for nonreporting in the second year, and the agency recently increased the penalty for not reporting a severe injury to as much as $7,000 from $1,000, with fines expected to increase further when higher penalty levels approved by Congress last year take effect, he said.

The agency responded to 62% of the reports filed last year by asking employers to conduct their own incident investigations — known as rapid response investigations — and propose remedies to prevent future injuries rather than sending OSHA inspectors to the scene, according to the report.

Mr. Michaels has said that the agency would not use the information gathered in these rapid response investigations to issue citations and fines — a pledge that some employer representatives view skeptically.

OSHA found some employers exceeded the agency's requirements to protect workers from future incidents, while others attempted to hide hazards and continue practices that put employees at risk, according to the report.

In one example, a manufacturer tried to conceal an entire production line from agency inspectors after a staffing agency reported the amputation of a worker's finger. In another example, the employer delayed reporting a fall injury for three days while he bought the required protection and coached other employees to claim they had the protection all along and blame the injured worker for not wearing it.