If you are an employer, the public may soon have easy access to your workplace injury and illness information through a searchable online database. On November 7, 2013, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) issued a proposed rule1 to amend its recordkeeping regulations to add requirements for the electronic submission of the injury and illness information that employers are already required to keep under existing regulations (the “Proposed Rule”).

Under OSHA’s current recordkeeping regulations, employers with more than 10 employees and whose establishments are not classified as a partially exempt industry (including establishments in specific low hazard retail, service, finance, insurance, and real estate industries) must record work-related injuries and illnesses using three forms: Form 300 Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, Form 300A Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses, and Form 301 Injury and Illness Incident Report.  Such employers must also post the previous year’s Form 300A in the workplace every year from February 1 to April 30. Employers covered by the Occupational Safety & Health Act only have to report to OSHA when a work-related incident results in the death of an employee or the in-patient hospitalization of three or more employees within eight hours.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic, three million Americans in the private sector suffered a serious injury or illness on the job in 2012.  However, OSHA never sees most of the injury and illness logs compiled by employers in the U.S.  The agency has access to establishment-specific injury and illness information in a particular year only if the establishment was inspected, was part of the OSHA Data Initiative, and/or reported a fatality or multiple hospitalization events.  OSHA is a small agency—2,400 inspectors cover almost eight million workplaces—that inspects only a small percentage of workplaces each year.

The following is a summary of requirements under the Proposed Rule:  First, establishments that have more than 250 employees, and that are already required to keep injury and illness records, would be required to electronically submit to OSHA the information from these records on a quarterly basis. Second, establishments that had 20 or more employees in the previous year, that are already required to keep records, and that are in certain designated industries with high injury and illness rates would be required to electronically submit to OSHA the information from their Form 300A Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses on an annual basis. Third, upon notification, employers would be required to electronically submit to OSHA specified information from the records they keep, under OSHA’s current recordkeeping regulations. 

The required information would be submitted to OSHA through a secure website.  OSHA would then make the data publically available online, after cleaning it of personally identifiable information, as encouraged by President Obama’s Open Government Initiative. 

OSHA’s stated purpose for the rulemaking is “to improve workplace safety and health through the collection of useful, accessible, establishment-specific injury and illness data to which OSHA currently does not have direct, timely, and systematic access.”

According to Dr. David Michaela, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, the Proposed Rule aims to use data to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses by encouraging employers to identify and abate hazards in their workplaces before workers get hurt and without OSHA making an inspection.  The increased availability of data will also enable employers and employees to compare their injury rates with others in the same industry.

Dr. Michaela insists that “[t]his initiative will not result in more OSHA enforcement.”  Rather, he says that the data provided to OSHA will allow the agency to better target its activities, resulting in an increased focus on workplaces where workers are at greater risk and fewer inspections at the workplaces of employers with low injury rates.  However, the Proposed Rule will likely result in additional OSHA citations for recordkeeping violations, which otherwise would go unnoticed in the absence of a workplace inspection.

Written public comments regarding the Proposed Rule are being accepted through February 6, 2014.2 In addition, OSHA will hold a public meeting regarding the Proposed Rule in Washington, D.C. on January 9, 2014.