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Feds tighten rules on workplace deaths, injuries

By Tom Raum
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Beginning Jan. 1, managers must file a detailed report within eight hours of a fatal workplace accident.

Severe on-the-job injuries that do not result in deaths but require hospitalization must be reported within 24 hours, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new rules, which take effect Jan. 1. Such reports must be filed regardless of the size of the business.

Previously, OSHA’s regulations required such death and injury reports only if three or more workers were killed or hospitalized as a result of a workplace accident. The government issued the new regulations Thursday.

“We can and must do more to keep America’s workers safe and healthy,” according to a statement attributed to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. “Workplace injuries and fatalities are absolutely preventable, and these new requirements will help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing them.”

The 24-hour reporting requirement includes work-related hospitalizations, amputations or the loss of an eye, according to the statement released by OSHA.

The new rule follows the release of a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that 4,405 workers were killed on the job in the United States in 2013.

Reporting single-instance hospitalizations, amputations or loss of an eye was not required under the previous rule.

Starting Jan. 1, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is changing its rules, including shortening how long employers can wait before filing reports on workplace deaths and accidents.

Starting Jan. 1, OSHA is changing its rules, including shortening how long employers can wait before filing reports on workplace deaths and accidents.

Such severe injuries can be clear signals “that serious hazards are likely to be present at a workplace and that an intervention is warranted to protect the other workers at the establishment,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

“Most employers, I think, are really shocked and affected significantly when a worker is injured, and they want to make sure that never happens again,” Michaels said in a conference call with reporters. “We can now help them immediately” to make their workplaces safer.

James Brudney, a labor and employment law professor at Fordham University in New York, said many states already have such requirements on the books and “this strikes me as a relatively modest reform.”

“I think the point of reporting requirements is to both give the federal agency that’s charged with assuring or improving workplace safety adequate, complete data,” Brudney said, “and also the businesses involved have the opportunity by gathering this data, to reflect a little bit on what’s happening in their own businesses.”

The new rule maintains the current exemption for any employer with 10 or fewer workers from the requirement to routinely keep records of worker injuries and illnesses.

Officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said they have reservations about the new regulations. Requiring reports when a single employee is hospitalized “brings into play questions about whether the hospitalization is work-related,” said Marc Freedman, the chamber’s director of labor law policy.

With just one employee, rather than the previous rule of three, “whether it was work-related may not be clear,” Freedman said.

Furthermore, he said, because the reports are public records, they likely are available on the Internet. “So there’s lots of complications related to that” for many businesses.

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