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Published: November, 2009; Vol 6, Num 6

 

Critics’ Challenge Acknowledged:

OSHA to Investigate BLS Injury, Illness Data

During the Bush Administration, critics consistently questioned the accuracy of falling injury and illness rates reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In an effort that could restore confidence in the government’s data, OSHA announced October 1 that it will institute a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Recordkeeping to check the accuracy of employer reporting.

In a comment to EHS Today, acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab said, “Accurate and honest recordkeeping is vitally important to workers’ health and safety. This information is not only used by OSHA to determine which workplaces to inspect, but it is an important tool employers and workers can use to identify health and safety problems in their workplaces.”

Employers have incentives to underreport or not report injuries and illnesses because better safety performance data can enhance bidding and lower workers’ compensation insurance premiums. Some companies actively discourage injury reporting with “Safety BINGO” and similar programs that reward work crews or the entire workforce if they manage to complete a project without any reported lost workdays. A provision in the Protecting America’s Workers Act, now pending in Congress, would ban such incentive programs.

In contrast, safety-minded companies embrace accurate reporting because it provides a base line and guidance for improving their safety programs. Indeed, the best companies insist on the reporting of close calls – in which no one was actually injured – so that even more comprehensive safety assessments can be made.

While OSHA’s NEP will focus primarily on industries with the highest Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART) rates, OSHA will test the NEP in construction where it appears that incomplete reporting may be a widespread and serious problem. After refinements following the test, it will be directed at the target industries. Eventually, it could be applied to the construction industry more generally.

The recordkeeping NEP involves inspecting occupational injury and illness records prepared by businesses and appropriately enforcing regulatory requirements when employers are found to be under-recording injuries and illnesses. Inspections will include a records review, employee interviews and a limited safety and health inspection of the workplace.

Recordkeeping abuse is one way to “polish” a company’s injury and illness rate. Another technique is outsourcing.For more on that, see Outsourcing Dangerous Work in this issue.

[Steve Clark]