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The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration must take steps to prevent underreporting of fatalities and injuries and ensure employers correct identified hazards, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.
In 2015, the agency implemented its severe injury reporting rule, which kept a mandate that all workplace fatalities be reported within eight hours, but added a new requirement 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.
Employers reported 4,185 fatalities and 23,282 severe injuries to OSHA from January 2015 through April 2017, according to the report, dated Sept. 13, but widely distributed in recent days.
“OSHA had no assurance employers reported work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye,” the report stated. “Estimates show employers do not report 50% or more of severe injuries. Moreover, OSHA did not consistently follow its policy to issue a citation when an employer failed to report work-related fatalities and severe injuries within the specified timeframes.”
Employers performed 14,834 investigations to evaluate the causes of the injuries and OSHA conducted 10,475 onsite inspections based on employer-reported fatalities and severe injuries, according to the report.
The OIG tested a random sample of 50 fatalities and 100 severe injuries, finding that OSHA performed 37 inspections and requested 63 employers perform their own investigations to evaluate what went wrong and take actions to protect workers from similar injuries by eliminating the hazards identified by the investigations, according to the report. In 50 of the 63 sampled severe injuries that OSHA requested employers to investigate, OSHA did not document its decision to allow employers to perform an investigation.
In about 87% of employer investigations, OSHA lacked justification for its decisions to allow employers to perform an investigation or closed investigations without sufficient evidence employers had abated the hazards that caused the accident, according to the report.
“Furthermore, OSHA did not monitor any employer investigations to ensure accuracy and completeness of the information reported,” the report stated. “We attributed the incomplete reporting of fatalities and severe injuries and limited assurance employers abated hazards properly to OSHA’s lack of guidance and training on detecting and preventing underreporting, inconsistent use of citations as a deterrent, inadequate documentation supporting essential decisions and lack of verification of actions taken by employers to abate hazards. Without complete information on work-related fatalities and severe injuries, OSHA cannot effectively target its compliance assistance and enforcement efforts. Similarly, without adequate evidence that employers abated hazards properly, OSHA lacks assurance that employers have taken the necessary corrective actions to provide a safe workplace.”
OSHA issued 1,865 citations and imposed initial penalties totaling about $5.2 million for late reporting from Jan. 1, 2015, through April 30, 2017. A March 2016 OSHA memo increased the penalty for not reporting a severe injury to up to $7,000 per violation to serve as a deterrent.
“However, we found OSHA should have imposed a penalty in 17 of 21 sampled fatalities and severe injuries that were reported between 2 and 47 days after the incident,” the report stated. “OSHA area office staff did not follow OSHA guidance for issuing citations for late reporting and did not provide evidence to support their decisions for not issuing citations. The receipt of employer reports within OSHA’s required timeframes enables OSHA to inspect the site of the incident and interview personnel while their recollections are immediate, fresh and untainted by other events, thus providing more timely and accurate information. Furthermore, reducing the reporting time increased the chances that the site of the incident would remain undisturbed.”
OSHA should develop formal guidance and train staff on how to detect and prevent underreporting of fatalities and severe injuries, consistently issue citations for late reporting and clarify OSHA’s guidance related to documentation of essential decisions, evidence required to demonstrate employers corrected all identified hazards and requirements for monitoring employer-conducted investigations, according to the OIG’s recommendations.
OSHA agreed that it can improve case file documentation to include essential decisions and take necessary steps to implement the monitoring aspect of the program to ensure accuracy in reporting, but said it was not clear what additional measures it could take through formal guidance or training to prevent underreporting, absent statutory changes to allow the sharing of information or substantial additional resources devoted specifically to seeking out unreported injuries, according to the report.
Fatal work injuries in the United States in 2016 reached their highest level since 2008, with double-digit increases in workplace violence and overdose fatalities, according to a report published Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.