Chain of Thought

Make Sure Obamacare Doesn’t Spark OSHAcare

Here’s something to celebrate: only three million workers were injured or got sick on the job in 2012. I know that sounds like a macabre celebration, but though three-million is three-million too many incidents, at least that number’s not rising. This figure comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' newly-released annual Occupational Injuries and Illnesses report. The BLS slices and dices this number a bunch of different ways, but in broad terms it translates into an incidence rate of 3.4 cases per 100 equivalent full-time workers, which BLS says “continues the pattern of statistically significant declines that, with the exception of 2011, occurred annually for the last decade.”

More than 2.8 million (94.8 percent) of the nearly 3.0 million nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2012 were injuries. 75.2 percent of those happened in service-providing industries, which employed 82.4 percent of the private industry workforce. The remaining injuries (24.8 percent) happened in goods-producing industries, which accounted for 17.6 percent of private industry employment in 2012. (See an infographic illustrating other workplace hazards here.)

On the goods-producing side, iron foundries, truck trailer manufacturing, iron and steel forging, materials recovery and soft drink manufacturing were among those with the highest non-fatal injury rates. You might expect that from iron foundries, but what’s so dangerous about making pop? Think of the heavy loads those workers move around all day, manually and by lift truck. And ironically, material handling equipment manufacturing had some of the higher injury rates when looking at the category breakdowns, logging six recordable cases per 100 full-time workers for the year. Industrial truck, tractor, trailer and stacker machinery manufacturing logged 6.6 recordable cases per 100 workers.

Still, the fact these numbers are down in all categories seems to speak well for managers who are taking the impact of injuries seriously. After all, it’s getting harder to find people who want to work in these environments, so the safer they can make their workplaces, the better. OSHA’s trying to make it easier for them to track their progress.

It just issued a proposed rule it believes will improve workplace safety and health through improved tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. It involves amending its current recordkeeping regulations to add requirements for the electronic submission of injury and illness information. They envision starting this with companies having more than 250 employees (those who are already required to keep records). They’d be expected to submit their records to OSHA electronically on a quarterly basis.

OSHA is also proposing that establishments with 20 or more employees, in 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.

The data OSHA receives this way would be posted online. Ironically, in its official announcement, by trying to make this sound less Big Brotherish, OSHA actually reads more so. They acknowledge this is a move “encouraged by President Obama's Open Government Initiative.”

“Timely, establishment-specific injury and illness data will help OSHA target its compliance assistance and enforcement resources more effectively by identifying workplaces where workers are at greater risk, and enable employers to compare their injury rates with others in the same industry,” OSHA states in its press release.

With the challenges the Obama Administration faces to get Obamacare working smoothly online, somehow I feel employers are going to feel a little queasy about sharing their sensitive injury data with another set of bureaucratic paper-pushers—even if it means pushing the paper electronically. 

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels explained why he thinks it’s a good idea:

"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,” he said. “The proposal does not add any new requirement to keep records; it only modifies an employer's obligation to transmit these records to OSHA."

You have until Feb. 6, 2014, to submit written comments on this proposed rule. If you want to weigh-in on it in person, you’ll be able to do so on Jan. 9, 2014, at a public meeting held in Washington, D.C.

To get an inkling of the kind of stuff OSHA needs to hear, I asked Jim Shephard, president of Shephard’s Industrial Training Systems and one of the experts on MH&L’s Editorial Advisory Board, what he thought about OSHA’s announcement. Although he share’s my concern about data security, he thinks going electronic with injury reporting is a pretty good idea.

“If they establish a secure site, I think the results from it would be fantastic,” he told me. “You have industries out there with issues that aren’t being reported for a year. But what you don’t want is having the general public reviewing that stuff before OSHA has a chance to review the situation. These employers don’t need having 14 safety companies reviewing the data and offering their services like ambulance chasers.”

That’s the kind of feedback OSHA needs to hear. If you agree, add your voice to the mix. Do your homework first, though. Get alternative viewpoints, like this one from our sister publication, EHSToday. Then let yourself be heard. You might not have had a say in joining the Big Brotherhood of Obamacare, but now’s your chance to avoid being harmed by electronic injury reporting to Uncle OSHA.

 

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