Weigh in on OSHA’s Proposed Rule for Online Access to Injuries and Illnesses

posted on: Wednesday January 1, 2014

DSC_6751In an effort to increase safety, OSHA is proposing a new rule, “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses,” and the manufacturing industry does not agree with it. OSHA will take its existing regulations and amend them slightly for a big change.

Currently the 38,000 establishments with over 250 employees are required to submit quarterly records of injuries and illnesses to OSHA. The 440,000 national companies with 20-249 employees (in certain high-risk industries) submit these records annually.

What is changing is the electronic submission of these records will eventually be posted online for the public to see. While the intention is to improve working conditions and overall safety, many feel that the numbers alone – without explanation of the incident(s) – will tarnish the reputation of upstanding employers.

Concerning OSHA is the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ data that estimates 3 million workers were injured on the job in 2012. OSHA has a long and successful history of aiding employers to improve their safety records – through reporting requirements, inspections, and consultations. Professionals like Amanda Woods, director of Labor and Employment Policy at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), feel these measures are successful enough not to warrant public access to specific injury records. She says that disclosing this data “could lead to unfair characterizations of businesses by people who just see a statistic and don’t know the circumstances behind it.” NAM’s senior director of media relations Matt Lavoie agrees: “It’s about reputation. Reputation is currency for a company and it truly does matter and you can’t get an accurate picture from some numbers on a page.”

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels, sees the rule’s effect on reputation as a competitive advantage. Sandy Smith of EHS Today wrote “OSHA Wants to Get Real (As In Real Time) With Injury and Illness Data,” in which Michaels contributes his opinion. Smith paraphrases, “The database also will allow companies seeking contractors to compare and contrast injury and illness rates among those bidding for contracts, and allow companies that are bidding for contracts to have bragging rights if their injury and illness rates are lower than competitors. Transparent access to the date also allows workers looking for jobs to compare the safety data for potential employers, allowing some companies with low injury and illness rates to become ‘employers of choice’ in their industries.”

If the rule is approved, safety experts anticipate other benefits to employers. Smith writes, “According to Michaels, online access to the reporting data will allow companies to benchmark against others in their industries and against companies considered ‘world-class’ in other industries.” Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill also spoke with Smith about the proposed rule. “O’Neill said he thinks the availability of transparent data will help stakeholders such as employers, industry groups and OSHA know where to target their injury and illness reduction efforts to achieve the safest possible workplaces.”

With the astounding number of employees injured each year, the basic idea of the rule is to improve workplace safety. Michaels explained to Smith that posting the injury data would hopefully encourage more employees to identify and remedy health hazards before they happen. Smith quotes Michaels, “The basic idea is that widely recognized practices [good or bad] will lead to better public citizens.”

NAM disagrees that posting the information will lead to a safer workplace. Woods says, “Manufacturers have a No. 1 goal of safe workplaces and we want to work with OSHA in a collaborative manner. We need best practices, not additional regulations, at this time.”

While the manufacturing industry is speaking loudly against the rule, we wonder about the opinions of the industry yielding the highest workplace injury rates – health care. This field is, in fact, O’Neill’s latest focus. If the rule goes through, O’Neill hopes that posting injury data in real time is the next step. He feels this will hasten learning as he has seen with Alcoa. O’Neill instituted a policy there requiring each of Alcoa’s locations (343 total) to report injuries to the company website within 24 hours. The policy is still followed today; the Nov 7th lost workday rate for 2013 was 0.083, and the DART rate was 0.341.

How will this rule affect you? If you want to voice your opinions on the proposed rule, the public has until February 6th, 2014 to submit written comments on it. Additionally, OSHA will hold a public meeting on the proposal on January 9th, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Regardless of the proposed rule, Load Mover Inc. knows that employers are dedicated to the safety of their employees. Our company builds quality power tugs that have improved safety and productivity for companies across the nation. For safer and practical applications of pushing and pulling tasks, consider Load Mover power tugs. For more information on Load Movers, search this site, email info@loadmoverinc.com, or call 952-767-1720.