OSHAOSHA’s proposal to improve the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses will either improve worker safety or pose an undue burden on employers.

Those are among the reactions being voiced by safety advocates and industry groups as the agency holds moves forward and holds public meetings on the proposal.

OSHA wants to amend its recordkeeping regulations to add requirements for the electronic submission of the injury and illness information that employers are already required to keep under Part 1904 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The proposed rule amends 29 CFR 1904.41 to require all establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically send all their recordkeeping data to OSHA quarterly. The improved tracking system also would require establishments with 20 or more employees, in certain industries with high injury and illness rates, to electronically send their annual summary data to OSHA once a year. Presently, employers submit such reports on paper, and there is a significant lag in processing the data.

The agency’s plan to post the data it collects online is the part of the proposal that has aroused the most opposition.

Database concerns

OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels said publicly posting workplace illness and injury information will allow employers to benchmark their performance against others in their industry, with similar facilities.

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

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) says OSHA has not provided guarantees that the database containing workers’ personal information will be secure as required under federal and state privacy laws.

“It appears that the agency has not even considered the implications of unrestricted access to a database by those whose motivations have no connection to worker safety,” said NRCA executive vice president William Good.

"Elusive" benefits

The group also has doubts about whether the cost of making the changes – for employers –will justify what it calls “unspecified and elusive” benefits.

“With the construction industry trying to regain its footing after years of unfavorable economic conditions, a new, costly recordkeeping obligation that has no empirical benefits is not conducive to business or worker health,” said Good.

Advocacy group Public Citizen says because OSHA currently does not receive injury and illness data electronically, it is forced to rely on data that is more than a year old when attempting to respond to hazardous workplace conditions.

Additionally, Public Citizen’s Keith Wrightson said the changes could provide wider protections when workers are faced with employer intimidation not to report workplace illnesses and injuries, “which is widely prevalent.”