Worker injuries to be made public

OSHA is expected to issue a final rule this year which will require employers to report workplace injuries electronically so the data can be made public and easily accessible to anyone. "Under the proposed rule, employers would electronically transfer worker injury records to OSHA. The agency then would make it possible for the public to search how many injuries and illnesses occurred at each workplace, the title of the affected employee, and the circumstances related to each incident," reports Modern Healthcare.

This is how OSHA describes it: With the information acquired through this proposed rule, employers, employees, employee representatives, the government, and researchers will be better able to identify and abate workplace hazards. This information will also help OSHA use its resources more effectively by enabling OSHA to identify the workplaces where workers are at greatest risk.

OSHA says the only difference between this provision and the current regulation is that employers would be required to submit the requested information electronically. OSHA will provide a secure website for the data collection. Employers will register their establishments and be assigned a login ID and password.

The website will allow for both direct data entry and submission of data through a batch file upload, as appropriate.  Please click this link for an example of what the website might look like.

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The agency has put employers on notice the following information will likely become public: The data fields on the right side of the OSHA Form 301 (Incident report), i.e., case number, date of injury or illness, time employee began work, time of event, what the employee was doing just before the incident occurred, what happened, what the injury or illness was, what object or substance directly harmed the employee, and the date of death if applicable.

Workplace-safety advocates say such measures are important because fines imposed by OSHA tend to be minimal, and the agency has limited resources to inspect workplaces. Public shaming would be a bigger deterrent, they say, and is a way to hold companies accountable in the same way they are held accountable for their environmental or discrimination records or other community values people care about.

James Stanley, a former OSHA official who consults for companies, told the Wall Street Journal companies would be less likely to report as many injuries. "I think they'll try to do everything in the world not to report, because now it's going to be public. Injury reporting is not an exact science. The rules are gray at best," he added.

Major employers lambasted OSHA in a sternly worded letter. The Coalition for Workplace Safety argues OSHA simply lacks the authority to issue the regulation, which is burdensome and unnecessary. Also, public disclosure of injuries will lead to underreporting and create a PR problem for businesses. "It will allow those who wish to do so, to mischaracterize and misuse the information for reasons wholly unrelated to safety," the coalition said.

Besides, injury and illness data are not reliable measures of an employer's safety record or its efforts to promote a safe work environment. "Many factors outside of an employer's control contribute to workplace accidents, and many injuries that have no bearing on an employer's safety program must be recorded,' the coalition said.

The coalition is comprised of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Forest & Paper Association, American Health Care Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, American Truck Dealers, and the National Federation of Independent Business, among others.