The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new injury reporting rule has produced insights into injuries in specific industry sectors, as well as provided a continuing challenge to the agency over how it responds to injury reports.
At a meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), on June 18, OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels said he was surprised by the high number of notices from supermarkets for amputations. OSHA responded to the unexpected information by issuing a fact sheet in May for safely operating food slicers and grinders. OSHA’s definition of amputation includes the loss of a fingertip without bone loss. The rule, at 29 CFR § 1904.39, requires employers to notify OSHA within 24 hours whenever a worker is admitted to a hospital, suffers an amputation or loses an eye. Previously, OSHA had to be contacted only when three or more workers were hospitalized.
As of June 12, the agency had received 5,474 notices since the new rule took effect on January 1, Michaels said, as reported by Bloomberg BNA. He described the change brought on by the rule as “essentially a new way of doing businessˮ and described OSHA’s ongoing response to the reports as a “work in progress,” according to the news source. This is because OSHA, with limited resources, faces the challenge of balancing its response to the reports against its commitment to conducting programmed inspections of high-hazard industries.
The Assistant Secretary said about 40 percent of the reports have prompted an OSHA inspection, while another 46 percent have resulted in OSHA contacting the employer to learn more about the incident. The agency refers to the latter action as a “rapid response investigation,” often resulting in asking the employer to investigate the accident to determine how it happened and what corrective measures were implemented to prevent a recurrence. OSHA also requests that the employer report back to the agency within about a week, Michaels said.
“What we’re trying to do is get employers to think about what is going on in the workplace and have them abate their hazard because we can’t go to every workplace,” Michaels said, as quoted by Bloomberg BNA.
During some conversations, the employer puts the onus for the accident on the employee, saying, for instance, that the injury occurred because the worker stuck his hand into a machine, Michaels explained.
Because that kind of a response is “a victim-blaming understanding of the cause,ˮ it raises the agency’s concern, commented the Administrator, who added that if OSHA is not satisfied with an employer’s investigation, it can conduct one of its own. “We’ve got to help employers overcome that thinking,ˮ Michaels said. “A root-cause analysis that comes up with, ‘It’s the worker’s fault,’ is really a problem.”
OSHA told NACOSH the agency wants to create a searchable database from data in each report; specifically, information about the injury, the circumstances surrounding it, and how the employer reduced associated hazards. The database would be similar to injury and fatality information offered online by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The $100,000 cost for a contractor to extract information from the reports awaits approval.