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Battle lines emerge over OSHA electronic injury reporting rules


Stakeholders urged Congress to intervene to stop the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration from implementing its electronic record-keeping rule, but the regulation has its defenders.

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on workforce protections held a hearing in Washington on Wednesday to discuss OSHA's rule, which 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.

But OSHA's focus on record-keeping is misplaced as there is no evidence that current reporting and recording requirements do not accurately capture trends in workplace safety improvements, said David Sarvadi, a Washington-based partner with Keller and Heckman L.L.P., speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Workplace Safety.

“OSHA should be prohibited from publishing the specific case data for the injuries and illnesses, and the regulation allowing OSHA to issue citations for retaliation should be rejected by Congress and the courts as a usurpation of Congressional authority,” he said.

The agency plans to create a public database for employer injury and illness reports, which has alarmed employers and their representatives who believe OSHA will inadvertently release employees' personal information, despite the agency's vow to protect the information.

Lisa Sprick, president of Sprick Roofing Co. Inc. based in Corvallis, Oregon, testifying on behalf of the National Roofing Contractors Association, said her company employs a former hacker to erect and continually test the firewalls that protect its electronic information.

“Our company goes to great lengths to protect sensitive employee data,” she said.

The data included in the OSHA forms “lack meaningful context,” such as the size of the businesses, and could be used by competitors against her small business, which currently has 25 employees and has not had a lost-time incident in more than five years, Ms. Sprick said.

“I believe these regulations will do little to promote safer workplaces and could prove to be counterproductive to this goal,” she said.

But OSHA needs the electronic record-keeping rule, as well as the revised severe injury reporting rule it put into effect in 2015, to enable the agency to ensure workplace safety with its limited resources, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., said

“Ideally, OSHA would inspect every workplace where a severe injury occurs, but because Congress has literally starved OSHA of much-needed resources, the federal agency lacks a sufficient number of facility inspectors,” she said, noting that there are only 63 OSHA inspectors available in her home state of Florida.

“Public disclosure can help nudge employers to improved safety outcomes,” Rep. Wilson added.

The American Public Health Association remains concerned that workplace practices, policies and programs discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses, with retaliation resulting in job loss or fear of job loss the most harmful, according to Rosemary Sokas, professor and chair, Department of Human Science, Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies in Washington.

“That's the concern that we are grateful to OSHA for addressing,” she said.

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