OSHAOSHA today issued a proposed rule to improve workplace safety and health through improved tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. The announcement follows the Bureau of Labor Statistics' release of its annual Occupational Injuries and Illnesses report, which estimates that three million workers were injured on the job in 2012.

"Three million injuries are three million too many," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels, who added that inspections aren’t enough to ensure that U.S. workplaces are reducing hazards.

OSHA is a small agency. With our state partners, we have about 2400 inspectors to cover almost eight million workplaces. It would take us close to 100 years to inspect every workplace once.”

What would change

OSHA is proposing to amend its current recordkeeping regulations to add requirements for the electronic submission of injury and illness information employers are already required to keep under existing standards, Part 1904. The first proposed new requirement is for establishments with more than 250 employees (and who are already required to keep records) to electronically submit the records on a quarterly basis to OSHA.

And for smaller companies...

OSHA is also proposing that establishments with 20 or more employees, in certain industries with high injury and illness rates, be required to submit electronically only their summary of work-related injuries and illnesses to OSHA once a year. Currently, many such firms report this information to OSHA under OSHA's Data Initiative.

"With the changes being proposed in this rule, employers, employees, the government and researchers will have better access to data that will encourage earlier abatement of hazards and result in improved programs to reduce workplace hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities,” said Michaels. “The proposal does not add any new requirement to keep records; it only modifies an employer's obligation to transmit these records to OSHA."

Nudging employers

How will making data publicly available make workplaces safer?

“Public posting of workplace illness and injury information will nudge employers to better identify and eliminate hazards,” said Michaels. “Employers want to be seen as the top performers in their industry. We believe that responsible employers will want to be recognized as leaders in safety.

“Currently, employers cannot benchmark their performance against others in their industry. Once implemented, this initiative will employers to compare their safety records to those with similar facilities. In addition, prospective employees will know which employers have better safety records.”

Michaels also said the data will allow his agency to target resources on those employers most in need of inspections and OSHA’s free consulting program.

AIHA reaction

American Industrial Hygiene Association® (AIHA) President Barbara J. Dawson, CIH, CSP, said that while much depends on the details of the proposed rule, AIHA supports OSHA’s efforts to make employee injury and illness records public. “The proposal will increase the focus of senior managers on injury and illness data and encourage employers to do the right thing for their workers.”

What happens next

The public will have 90 days, through Feb. 6, 2014, to submit written comments on the proposed rule. On Jan. 9, 2014, OSHA will hold a public meeting on the proposed rule in Washington, D.C. A Federal Register notice announcing the public meeting will be published shortly.

The proposed rule was developed following a series of stakeholder meetings in 2010 to help OSHA gather information about electronic submission of establishment-specific injury and illness data.

OSHA plans to eventually post the data online, PER President Obama's Open Government Initiative.

Additional information on the proposed rule can be found at www.dol.gov/find/20131107/* and www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/proposed_data_form.html.