Employers Expected to Investigate Injuries, Report Findings to OSHA

By Roy Maurer Jun 25, 2015
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Recently revised injury-reporting requirements for employers have led to shared responsibility for the uptick in reports, and the subsequent inspections required.

Since the Jan. 1, 2015, effective date, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has received 5,474 injury reports, 40 percent of which have resulted in workplace inspections conducted by the agency.

For another 46 percent of cases, OSHA has asked the employer to conduct its own “rapid response investigation,” which is an inquiry into how the accident happened and a determination of what measures can be taken to prevent more incidents. OSHA has then contacted the employer within a week by phone or e-mail to learn more about the incident.

“This is, essentially, a new way of doing business,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. He told the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health June 18, 2015, that “It’s changed the way we’ve been working in many ways. It’s still a work in progress.”

Since Jan. 1, employers have been required to notify OSHA within 24 hours whenever a worker is admitted to a hospital, suffers an amputation or loses an eye. Previously, OSHA had to be contacted only when three or more workers were hospitalized.

The changes have resulted in 200-300 calls weekly from employers. Michaels said the agency considers the merits of each injury report. “We recognize there is an opportunity cost to each inspection. We do a limited number of inspections because we can’t do more without more inspectors.”

The goal is to engage employers more “to think about what is going on in the workplace and have them abate their hazard because we can’t go to every workplace,” he said.

Employers, take note that OSHA will be on the lookout for employer investigation conclusions that “victim-blame” the worker for a workplace injury. “The employer will say, ‘The reason we had that injury is because the worker stuck his hand in the machine.’ We’ve got to help employers overcome that thinking,” Michaels said.

He said some of the benefits of the reporting changes have been:

  • Making the agency aware of workplaces it never realized were high-hazard. “We’ve seen pretty serious workplace amputations in supermarkets, for example,” he said.
  • Recognizing patterns “that have been very useful.”

Amanda Edens, the director of technical support and emergency management at OSHA, told the committee that the agency’s goal is to use the increased injury data to create a searchable database on the circumstances surrounding injuries and how employers have reduced hazards.

Regulatory Update

Michaels also updated the panel on the progress of several regulatory developments, including:

  • The issuance of a final rule aimed at cutting occupational exposure levels to silica dust is “on target” for early 2016.
  • The intention to update the 1989 Safety Health Management System guidelines this year.
  • The initiation of the small business review for a proposed rule to modernize the process safety management standard.
  • The assembling of a group to assist in the development of a proposed emergency responder preparedness program standard to replace the current fire brigade standard. The program is expected to cover workplace emergency response teams, industrial firefighters, emergency medical service providers and those who may be called upon to respond to emergencies. The regulations are expected to include establishing a risk management plan, responder preparedness, facility and equipment preparedness, pre-incident planning, standard operating procedures, incident management, emergency operations, and post-incident analysis.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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