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Workplace safety standards rely on quality of data

Workplace safety standards rely on quality of data

ATLANTA — The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will analyze the information gathered via the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's new electronic record-keeping rule to identify new workplace safety hazards, according to the head of NIOSH.

In May, OSHA issued its controversial final rule to expand electronic record-keeping requirements for workplace injuries and illnesses and make such records publicly available. The new rule, fully 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.

“For anybody scientifically who relies on data, there's never a bad thing about having more data, so I think in that sense NIOSH scientists are excited about the fact that there would be more data available,” NIOSH Director John Howard said on the sidelines of the American Society of Safety Engineers annual conference in Atlanta on Monday. “I don't know any scientist in NIOSH that wouldn't be excited about access to data, because that promotes one of NIOSH's values in science, which is to try to figure out why things happen and to prevent them from happening again.”

“Clearly, you want to look at finding new hazards because there may be something hidden in the data,” he added.

But NIOSH officials know from their own experience that OSHA will be challenged in managing the database, Mr. Howard said.

“A lot is going to depend on the software for posting, etc.” he said. “There will be (legal challenges) obviously they'll have to deal with. But aside from that, it's not an easy thing to collect data in a way that is analyzable.”

Good data is critical in promulgating a regulatory standard, he said, citing the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's coal dust rule, which was developed using NIOSH data and withstood a legal challenge in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in January, “I think largely because sound science was used to do the standard,” Mr. Howard said.

“We hope the same thing would happen in the case of silica,” Mr. Howard said, referring to OSHA's silica rule, which has been subject to numerous legal challenges. “I'm not sure the NIOSH science is at issue in the silica standard as much as the economic issues associated with it.”

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