OSHA Plans New Injury and Illness Tracking Rules for 2015, Stays Silent on Silica

According to a newly-released Department of Labor spring regulatory agenda, OSHA is planning to propose seven final rules before the end of 2015, including a rule to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses.

According to the agenda abstract, OSHA “is making changes to its reporting system” because it believes this “would enable a more efficient and timely collection of data, and would improve the accuracy and availability of the relevant records and statistics.”

The new rule would involve an expansion of OSHA’s authority around the collection of injury and illness information, and also increased protections for workers’ rights to report injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation. Specifically, the proposal would require certain businesses that already keep injury and illness records to electronically submit these records to OSHA. OSHA says it plans to post establishment-specific injury and illness information on its website. Some early feedback during the comment period expressed concern that this new process might lead employers to under-record injuries and illnesses. However, OSHA had made clear that it is committed to taking an active stance toward protecting workers and their right to report injuries and illnesses without intimidation or fear of reprisal.

VelocityEHS' team of incident management experts will continue to monitor this rule as more information becomes available. (incident management services help users centralize their recording, tracking and reporting of workplace injuries, illnesses, exposures and other incidents — consolidating OSHA recordkeeping requirements into one easy-to-use system.)

The release of OSHA’s spring agenda items was also notable because it did not contain new rules dealing with crystalline silica, which many industry observers had expected to see. OSHA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking  for permissible levels of occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica dust back in September of 2013. This included a request for comment regarding the health risks posed by respirable silica, and the comment period was eventually extended to the end of January 2014. Informal public hearings on the issue also took place.

OSHA has been quick to point out that the exposure limits for silica have not been adjusted in 40 years, and that it considers them “outdated, inconsistent between industries” and that they “do not adequately protect worker health.”

While the revision of respirable silica regulation has been supported by unions and public health officials, several trade associations and industry groups have strongly lobbied against it. Opposition has been particularly forceful among groups representing contractors and home builders. Marc Freedman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was critical of the rule, saying it “will definitely have significant impacts on a wide array of industries and workplaces, including the fracking industry, which has yielded enormous benefits in terms of energy development and job creation.”

While OSHA’s unified agenda currently lists June 2015 as a period to “analyze comments” for crystalline silica limits, it does not include any future date on which a rule might be issued.

There may be reason to believe that the lack of forward momentum on this rule reflects the impact of political pressure. During congressional hearings on the subject in March, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez found himself questioned sharply regarding the rule by lawmakers. It seems clear from this hearing (and the results of the most recent congressional elections), that opposition to a new silica rule will continue for the foreseeable future.

However, it does seem clear that OSHA will remain focused on whistleblowing protections. In the coming months, OSHA is set to issue several clarifications to its final rule regarding retaliation complaints and protections. In March of this year, OSHA issued a new final rule for handling these under Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  More information about current and forthcoming protections is available in a special section of OSHA’s website.

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