A new injury reporting rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is setting off a firestorm of debate in the manufacturing industry.
“It’s causing a bit of mass hysteria,” explained Scott Harris, a chemical safety expert and the director of EHS services with Alamo1.
Recently, OSHA released the final language of the controversial new rule, which will not only require that injury reports are submitted electronically, it will also make those records public. At the center of the debate is the question of whether public access to the injury reports will encourage better safety practices or set up companies to be targeted by lawsuits and bad press.
Here’s how the rule works: The law will go into effect Aug. 10 and it will mandate that companies in hazardous industries with more than 250 employees electronically submit injury and illness forms 300, 300A and 301. Companies with 20-249 workers will only need to submit OSHA form 300A.
The law will apply to a wide range of industries including manufacturing, utilities, construction, transportation and waste treatment and disposal. The new record keeping will start Jan. 1, 2017 and submissions will be required starting July 2017. After the reports are received, OSHA will post them online.
All Those in Favor
Harris is supportive of the measure and says it will be an effective way for OSHA to target investigations.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and you don’t want to be the squeaky wheel,” he said. “Now some people are saying that’s not fair. But if you’re having the most injuries and fatalities then why shouldn't you be getting the most inspections?”
OSHA has defended the rule by saying it will boost safety efforts.
“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace. Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities,” Dr. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said.
All Those Opposed
Critics say that the rule is equivalent to public shaming.
Rosario Palmieri, the vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, criticized the rule in a statement, saying: "Manufacturers are supportive of regulations aimed at increasing transparency, and we pride ourselves on creating safe workplaces for the men and women who make things in America. However, this regulation will lead to the unfair and unnecessary public shaming of these businesses. This is a misguided attempt at transparency that sacrifices employee and employer privacy.”
Construction Equipment, an industry journal, also voiced concerns over how the newly available data could be translated by the public.
“Before, employer reports of injury/illness events were in an open chronological format that allowed updates and changes to the report as needed. Now, because the electronic report will be made public at the initial filing, it may be difficult for employers to revise the report at a later date. This means the first filing will stay on the internet as it was written and later updates may or may not be easily found. This can lead to either accidental or willful misinterpretation of the information by anyone who has an internet connection,” the magazine wrote.
In addition to the reporting requirements, the new rule will also mandate that employers put procedures in place that inform workers of how they can report injuries without the risk of retaliation.
Even with the major objections, Harris says it's important to remember that the rule is not going to require onerous new work.
"It's simply reporting data that should already exist," he said.