Wednesday, July 6, 2011

OSHA Standards Update - Proposed Requirements for Reporting of Injuries to OSHA

Since its inception, OSHA has required employers to report certain incidents involving employee fatality or hospitalization. Beginning with their initial rules promulgated in 1971, OSHA required employers to report, within 48 hours after the occurrence, work-related incidents resulting in at least one fatality or the hospitalization of at least five (5) employees. In 1994, OSHA revised its reporting requirements to require employers to report within eight hours all work-related events or exposures involving fatalities or the in-patient hospitalization of three (3) or more employees (29 CFR 1904.39).

Recently, OSHA has issued a proposed rule revision that would require employers to report to OSHA, within eight hours, any work-related incident that result in the death of an employee or the in-patient hospitalization of one (1) or more employee, and within 24 hours, any work-related amputation suffered by an employee. The proposed rule must first go through a process to allow affected individuals and groups to provide “comments” about this proposed rule, presumably to be considered if / when finalizing the rule. You may submit your personal comments regarding the proposed rules directly to OSHA by following this link (http://www.regulations.gov) and searching for the proposed OSHA injury and illness revisions under the “submit a comment” tab.  But don’t wait too long, OSHA’s deadline for receiving comments is currently set at September 20, 2011.

According to the Federal Register, in-patient hospitalization occurs when a person is ``formally admitted” to a hospital or clinic for at least one overnight stay. Out-patient treatment (which would not have to be reported to OSHA within 8 hours) generally refers to patients that are seen by a physician or other licensed health care professional to treat an OSHA recordable injury or illness, and leave the hospital the same day. And an amputation is defined (for proposed reporting purposes) as the traumatic loss of a limb or other external body part, including a fingertip. In order for an injury to be classified as an amputation, bone must be lost. Amputations include loss of a body part due to a traumatic incident, a gunshot wound, and medical amputations due to irreparable traumatic injuries. Amputations exclude traumatic injuries without bone loss and exclude enucleation (eye removal).

OSHA estimates that an additional 210,000 cases per year involving in-patient hospitalizations and amputations will be reported each year. The Agency believes that making all in-patient hospitalizations and amputations reportable will provide them with additional information on the causes of workplace incidents, and lead to greater prevention of injuries without creating unreasonable burdens on employers. Their stated goal is to be provided with critical information to facilitate the timely investigation of harmful incidents and quick mitigation of hazards, and to allow the Agency to target “scarce resources” to the “most dangerous workplaces” and to prevent future injuries at these workplaces.

OSHA also states that they believe that the value of this additional information easily justifies the “relatively minor additional reporting burden” for affected employers estimated to be an average of 15 minutes per reported incident. I suppose they overlooked the hours that will be spent in the investigation, though.

I submitted a link to this proposed rule through numerous work-safety related discussion groups via my LinkedIn account to get feedback from interested members, and in a nutshell, here is what they thought.

Approximately half of the commenters felt that the rule to report all in-hospitalizations to OSHA within 8 hours was a good thing. It was pointed out that a few of the state plan OSHA programs already have a similar rule in place, and many respondents believe it would helps improve worker safety, primarily by OSHA getting involved quickly to make absolutely certain that the hazard(s) that lead to an incident is corrected by the employer. And even more commenters agreed there is a need to report all amputations to OSHA within 24 hours.

The other half of the commenters, though, believed the proposed rules are not such a good idea. Several respondents believe OSHA is not prepared to handle the crush of 200,000+ new incidents being reported each year (especially the OSHA compliance officers that responded). Several commenters expressed concern that OSHA compliance officers will treat all companies reporting such incidents as “bad actors”, even if the company has an otherwise good safety program. And a few commenters feared companies will now tie up resources by trying to “manage the case” so hospital admission (and therefore reporting to OSHA) can be avoided, even if that might deprive a worker of the best or quickest course of treatment for his or her injuries.

The problem I see is that OSHA isn’t saying (definitively) what they will do in response to these tens of thousands of reported incidents each year. Perhaps if OSHA were more forthcoming on what they plan to do with all this information, it would help us form to form better, more-informed opinions.  The presumption is that an OSHA compliance officer would conduct an inspection for every reported incident, but there is no way that can happen given their limited resources (unless some other part of the Agency suffers). Maybe they can implement something similar to their “informal employee complaint” process, where they require the employer to investigate the incident and report back to OSHA with their findings and corrective actions within an established time period. A compliance officer would only conduct a follow up inspection on the non-responders, as well as on a random sampling of the responders to insure the hazard(s) were truly abated.

OSHA also says the information they receive can be utilized to identify hazardous trends in the workplace and/or specific industries, so they could formulate programs to help alleviate the hazards via more targeted inspections. But their current Site Specific Targeting Program is already in place to help achieve this. Why not just increase the number of annual injury/illness surveys they send out and then get the information they need off the employers' OSHA logs? Speed in reporting is not of essence if trend analysis is truly a  goal.

What are your thoughts?  Has OSHA adequately thought out the consequences of this proposed new rule? Will reporting all in-hospitalizations to OSHA within 8 hours, as well as all amputations within 24 hours, lead to safer workplaces for employees? Or does it just overwhelm OSHA personnel and affected company personnel with reporting and inspection issues that could be better spent on other proactive activities? I’d like you to share your personal thoughts with us by commenting (link below).

And please, pass a link to this blog along to others in your network who can benefit from this information.

1 comment:

  1. If this is truly for information, then timing shouldn't be that important. I like the idea of reporting all overnight hospitalizations to OSHA, but not until after the in house investigation is complete. The information on the accident and corrective actions on all deaths and overnight hospitalization stays should be forwarded to OSHA. This kind of information, particularly the corrective actions could be useful to OSHA in improving OSHA regs and safety standards. A history of injuries for an organization would make that organization a candidate for an inspection.

    George Olsen, CSP, PhD
    Associate Director, Occupational Safety and Health Engineering Program
    New Jersey Institute of Technology

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