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OSHA wants public injury reports

By Beth Kevit

A proposed federal rule that would require construction companies make public the reports of any on-site injuries and illnesses is prompting concerns about how the information would be used.

The change, proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, would force companies, which already must track those injuries and illnesses, to report them either yearly or quarterly, depending on the number of people who work at the companies.

How to comment

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is accepting public comments on a proposed rule change through Feb. 6.

The rule would change reporting requirements for on-site workplace injuries and illnesses and make that information available to the public.

Comments may be submitted online at www.regulations.gov or faxed, if 10 pages or fewer, to 202-693-1648. The proposed change’s docket number is OSHA-2013-0023 and its regulatory info number is 1218-AC49. Either number must be included with comments.

They may be mailed to OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2013-0023, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N02625, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., 20210.

A public meeting is expected to be held Jan. 9.

— Beth Kevit

Businesses with more than 250 employees would submit the information, which then would be published on a public website, each quarter. Construction companies, building material suppliers and real estate companies, among others, with more than 20 employees would submit an annual summary of the data. The yearly submission would take the place of OSHA’s annual injury and illness survey, according to a summary of the proposed changes provided by OSHA.

But Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said his agency is worried the information could be misinterpreted or misused if made public.

“What OSHA is proposing,” he said, “is not going to create the improvement in workplace safety they’re claiming it will.”

An OSHA representative did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Companies already track injuries and illnesses, Freedman said, and make that information available to employees and to OSHA, if the agency requests it.

According to OSHA’s summary of the proposed change, the agency currently can request that information if a company has been inspected that year, if it is included in the OSHA Data Initiative, or if a fatality or event causing multiple hospitalizations is reported.

If the information is made public, Freedman said, it would not include the context of what happened or if nonworkplace factors contributed to an incident.

An injury could be as simple as a slip and fall, he said, and the company might have a stellar safety training program. But a competitor could use the public information to create a false impression of the company.

“Merely because you have to record an injury,” Freedman said, “does not mean an employer was at fault.”

Dan Burazin, safety director for the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee, said he expects the proposed rule to be challenged.

He emphasized that he had not thoroughly reviewed the proposed change, which was formally announced Thursday, but, he said, he does not know of a valid reason for the public disclosure.

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“That’s something that OSHA has a right to see because that’s what the law says,” Burazin said. “But why should my neighbor?”

According to OSHA’s summary of the proposed change, the new rule would improve workplace health and safety by letting potential employees screen a company, giving the public more information about companies to hire, and aiding researchers in uncovering injury and illness patterns.

The increased reporting also would let OSHA tailor compliance efforts for workplaces in which employees face a higher chance of injury or illness, according to the summary.

Identifying those workplaces, Burazin said, is OSHA’s job, and requiring every company submit the information shifts the responsibility away from the agency.

“Basically,” he said, “they’re just putting more burden on contractors.”

The contractors and other companies would be expected to use a federal website to submit the information, which the public could access.

Freedman said that arrangement should prompt some concerns in light of the recent problems with healthcare.gov, the government’s health insurance enrollment website, which has struggled to accommodate traffic.

“People would be appropriately skeptical,” he said, “of the government managing this process in an efficient way.”

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