OSHA Gets Serious About Modernizing Its Injury and Illness Data Collection

OSHA’s 2013 budget shows the agency is getting serious about modernizing its data collection. At a time when many initiatives are getting put on the back burner and hit with budget reductions, OSHA’s data collection modernization has actually moved to the fore with $1.75 million earmarked for updating the system to allow electronic filing and greater transparency.

OSHA says modernizing the data collection will provide the agency with “timely, establishment-specific injury and illness data to reduce the amount of resources needed to identify the most hazardous worksites. The new recordkeeping system will also enable employers, employees, employee representatives, government agencies, professional and trade associations, and researchers to get access to better workplace injury and illness data.”

According to the 2010 proposed rule on modernizations, an update is needed because the current data collection method does not allow OSHA to identify specific types of hazards for a given establishment and there is a two to three year lag between the occurrence of an injury or illness and the use of the data.

For employers, the move could ultimately lead to annual reporting of injury and illness information directly to OSHA. Currently, only a small percentage of businesses are required to report injury and illness rates to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or OSHA. With modernization, OSHA could open up the data collection to more businesses of every size and on a more regular basis.

Even without the budget news, February is traditionally a big month for the OSHA Recordkeeping Standard, with OSHA Form 300A getting posted in break rooms around the country. This year, however, the standard has received more attention than usual. Last week, OSHA proposed fines against two companies for a total of $288,000 for safety violations involving foreign students.

According to the announcement, OSHA received reports of unsafe work practices at the facilities employing foreign workers participating in a cultural work exchange. After investigating, the agency cited one company for nine violations, six of which were for willful violations.

Violations included serious Recordkeeping failures, like “failing to record injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 log for four years and failure to evaluate the accuracy of the 300 logs before certifying them for three years.”

Dr. David Michaels, director of OSHA, commented on the case, saying, "Nothing useful can be learned from an unrecorded injury. Accurate records provide critical information to employers and employees about the cause and prevention of work-related injuries. The law requires employers to maintain complete and accurate records because, without these, it is more difficult to prevent additional injuries and illnesses from occurring."

If OSHA is able to update is data collection process, one can imagine violations like these becoming easier to catch and prosecute.