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Employers are contending with strict, sometimes ambiguous new workplace accident reporting requirements as the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration navigates a flood of the new reports.
OSHA's revised reporting requirements, effective Jan. 1, keep the mandate that all workplace fatalities be reported within eight hours but add 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. Employers must make such reports within 24 hours of management learning of the accidents.
Now, the agency is receiving 200 to 250 new reports each week on top of the roughly 40 reports it already received under continuing rules (see box).
Of new reports to date under revised federal workplace safety reporting rules involving hospitalizations and certain serious injuries:
• About 75% of valid incidents were hospitalizations that did not involve an amputation or eye injury
• About 25% were amputations
• Less than 1% were eye injuries
Reacting to cases reported:
• About 55% resulted in a rapid response investigation seeking more information, including employer corrective actions
• About 38% resulted in an on-site inspection
• About 7% resulted in no action
Source: U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
“It's been pretty dramatic,” said Edwin Foulke, an Atlanta-based partner at Fisher & Phillips L.L.P. and a former OSHA assistant secretary of labor. “In talking with regional administrators and area directors, it sounds like they are swamped with calls.”
A major change is that that losing a fingertip with or without bone loss is considered an amputation and is reportable, said Tressi Cordaro, a Washington-based shareholder at Jackson Lewis P.C.
This type of fingertip loss is not uncommon, particularly in restaurants and supermarkets, experts say.
“I think that's probably been the biggest problem employers have had, figuring out what OSHA exactly means by amputation,” said Lisa Neuberger, editor and workplace safety expert at consulting and training firm J.J. Keller & Associates Inc. in Neenah, Wisconsin.
Moving from reporting three hospitalized employees to one could increase reportable hospitalizations by as much as 30,000, said Eric Conn, Washington-based partner and chair of the OSHA/workplace safety practice group of Conn Maciel Carey P.L.L.C.
Employers may not realize that in-patient hospitalization means being formally admitted to in-patient services of a hospital and undergoing treatment, Ms. Cordaro said.
“Employers should always err on the side of caution and report the event if it's questionable,” she said.
The ambiguity often comes in determining what is a work-related fatality or injury, such as when an employee has a heart attack on the job or hours after leaving the office — real-life scenarios encountered by Mr. Foulke's clients. OSHA must prove the heart attack was work-related, but the employer has to make that determination quickly for reporting purposes, he said.
A federal agency's efforts to ensure that workers are neither discouraged from reporting job-related injuries and illnesses nor disciplined if they do report them could upend some employers' safety programs and drug-free workplace policies.