Federal safety inspectors are ready to crack down on contractors who fail to keep records of worker injuries.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is drafting rules that make record-keeping audits an agency priority, and builders should get ready for inspectors who want to study injury logs when following up on worker complaints or investigating projects, said Brad Stehno, account executive and safety consultant for R&R Insurance Services Inc., Waukesha.
“It’s just going to create one more thing that companies need to make sure that they’re compliant with,” he said. “When it becomes an emphasis program, it sort of rises to the top as being a priority.”
Diana Petterson, OSHA spokeswoman, confirmed the agency is drafting the new priority, but she said OSHA will not comment on the record-keeping focus until the plan is finalized.
The new focus responds to research showing companies are not keeping records of all worker injuries.
OSHA creates inspection priorities targeting common accidents, such as falls on construction sites, based on companies’ injury and illness records. Incorrect data from those records could misdirect federal safety policy, said Kenneth Rosenman, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Michigan State University.
“Without proper numbers, I don’t know, maybe there should be more resources dedicated to occupational health, maybe we are underestimating, maybe we are focusing on the wrong industries,” he said. “If I don’t have accurate numbers, I don’t know.”
Rosenman in 2006 compared Michigan companies’ OSHA injury logs with workers’ compensation reports and hospital records of occupational accidents. He concluded that up to 68 percent of Michigan’s workplace illnesses and injuries were absent from company records.
OSHA’s new emphasis will mark the agency’s first push toward auditing companies and punishing them if they fail to follow record-keeping rules, said Neil Webster, safety director for Columbia Construction Co., a North Reading, Mass.-based building contractor.
“In my 23 years in the business, I can’t recall once where a company that I’ve worked for or a contracting company has been audited,” said Webster, assistant administrator for construction practice for the American Society of Safety Engineers. “This is not something that OSHA has done a lot of.”
OSHA’s new emphasis will force contractors to monitor another safety issue, but the record-keeping audits also will promote fairness, said Gert Grohmann, associate safety and training director for the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee. The system could identify contractors that accurately report injuries while penalizing those that do not follow the rules but maintain the appearance of being safe, he said.
“I think what OSHA really wants,” Grohmann said, “is to make sure that everybody is operating on a level playing field.”
Although OSHA can check company records to make sure no data are missing from accident reports, inspectors will have difficulty catching companies that do not report accidents, Webster said. A worker’s right to medical privacy probably will hamper OSHA efforts to compare names in hospital logs or workers’ compensation records with company records, he said.
But no matter how difficult it will be to spot inconsistencies, OSHA’s new priority would target a huge swath of the industry. Unlike other OSHA inspections, such as trench safety, that focus on certain types of work, the record-keeping rule will affect all contractors with more than 10 employees, Stehno said.
“It’s going to impact a lot more companies,” he said, “versus the other emphasis program.”