What's Behind Some of the New Requirements?

Taking a closer look at OSHA's recordkeeping standard can help you understand some of its controversial provisions.

MANY who have responsibilities for employee safety and health have been working with OSHA's new Occupational Injury and Illness Reporting and Recordkeeping standard (29 CFR 1904) for more than a year now. For some, the new requirements make less sense then the former rules. In training conducted on the topic, some concerns expressed included:

  • Why count calendar days--including weekends, vacations, and holidays-- instead of only scheduled workdays when determining days away from work because of a work-related injury or illness?
  • Why is it required to contact OSHA just because an employee had a heart attack at work?
  • Why have a company executive certify year-end OSHA Log summary results?

Perhaps an examination of how some of the provisions of the new OSHA Recordkeeping Standard were decided will give a better understanding of why these and other new requirements exist.

Out with the Old
Before we review a few specifics of the new standard, it is worthwhile to take a brief look at why the old standard needed fixing.

According to OSHA, the Injury and Illness Recordkeeeping requirements, first established in 1971, were designed to help employers recognize workplace hazards and correct hazardous conditions by keeping track of work-related injuries and illnesses and their causes. The recordkeeping standard attempted to outline the criteria necessary to consistently capture significant injuries and illnesses. With the collection of injury and illness statistics at the facility, local, and national levels, trends could be identified--allowing for appropriate allocation of resources to address them.

Unfortunately, the original recordkeeping standard was too vague and not well understood by many. This required OSHA to issue hundreds of letters of interpretation and publish formal guidelines (the 1986 "Recordkeeping Guidelines for Occupational Injuries and Illnesses," also known as the "bluebook").

Based on concern about injury and illness records and the statistics derived from them, a number of organizations outside OSHA conducted studies on the recordkeeping system in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Organizations including the National Research Council, the Keystone Center, and the General Accounting Office published reports evaluating the recordkeeping system and making recommendations for improvements. Some of the findings noted many recordkeeping inconsistencies and under-reporting due to the complexity of the old system. In fact, the Keystone report indicated up to 25 percent of employers required to maintain injury and illness logs were not doing so. OSHA relied on these studies extensively in developing the new recordkeeping rule.

In with the New
OSHA has stated the new recordkeeping rule was designed to improve the quality of injury and illness records by making the system simpler and easier to follow. Instructions for the new rules were written in consolidated, plain language, with a question-and-answer format. The required forms were also made more readable.

Through input from numerous public forums, OSHA addressed objections raised by employers directly and via the final written instructions. One example was a previous inconsistency under the old system with different criteria for illnesses versus injuries--which made even minor illness cases, such as minor contact dermatitis, automatically recordable.

The new 48-page, self-contained standard, more than 10 years in the making, was issued. It has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2002. Some provisions were still being debated, such the definition of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), but the bulk of the standard is now active.

So, what are the specific reasons behind some of the new requirements? Let's examine a few provisions mentioned earlier.

Why count calendar days including weekends, vacations, and holidays instead of only scheduled workdays in determining days away from work because of a work-related injury or illness?

This new day count provision [1904.7(b)(3)] generates many questions because it was a significant change from the old recordkeeping rules of counting only scheduled workdays. The basis of the change, according to OSHA, was to simplify days-away-from-work counting. For those who had to count lost workdays in the past, excluding scheduled days off, weekends, holidays, etc. could be a complex task that appears to be made simpler by counting straight calendar days. Of course, we now have to reestablish lost work day case metrics (also known as severity rates) with the new days-away calendar counts, whose net effect drives the baseline numbers up.

Another important basis of the change to calendar day count is the focus on employee disability due to their inability to work from a work-related injury or illness. It is intended to ensure that a measure of the length of disability is available, regardless of the employee's work schedule. This actually makes sense if you consider part-time workers. In the past, injury statistics were not comparable between full and part-time workers because of the consideration of work schedule. Calendar-day counts are a better measure of severity because they are based on the length of disability instead of depending on the individual employee's work schedule.

Thus, this new provision creates more complete and consistent data and helps realize one of the major goals: to improve the quality of the injury and illness data.

Why do we have to contact OSHA just because one of our employees had a heart attack at work?

The keys to understanding this reporting provision requirement [1904.39(b)(5)] involve the timeliness of fatality reporting, determination of work-relatedness, and OSHA's attempt at reporting simplification.

Because of the eight-hour timeframe allowed for reporting to OSHA workplace fatalities or catastrophes (defined as in-patient hospitalization of three or more employees as the result of a work-related incident), many employers often were unsure about whether they should report a fatality caused by a heart attack at work. Delays from employer incident investigation, and cause and work-relationship determinations did not allow OSHA enough notice, should the agency need to conduct an investigation.

By requiring all heart attacks occurring in the workplace to be reported within eight hours of employers' knowledge of the incident, the local OSHA area office director can decide whether to investigate the incident, depending on the circumstances of the heart attack. In effect, OSHA has made the fatality reporting easier because the work relationship determination of a heart attack does not have to be made prior to meeting the reporting requirement.

The decision whether the incident is "recordable" or not can be made by the employer after the appropriate information is gathered or within seven working days [per 1904.29(3)], whichever comes first.

Why have a company executive certify year-end OSHA Log summary results?

The certification of the year-end OSHA 300 Log data is now required [1904.32(3)] and must include an examination and signature by a company executive (i.e., owner or corporate officer). According to OSHA, the company executive certification process ensures greater accuracy and completeness of the Summary (Form 301-A or equivalent) by raising accountability for OSHA recordkeeping to a higher managerial level than existed under the former rule.

This provision introduces checks and balances for recordkeepers, who may have an incentive to not report certain injuries and illnesses. A classic example would be facility managers and supervisors being managed by the numbers and therefore interested in keeping their OSHA recordables low. Another example is concern over the adverse effect of OSHA recordability in defense of related worker's compensation and liability claims.

The executive certification attests to the overall integrity of the company's recordkeeping system. For example, in lieu of training requirements for recordkeepers, the accountability of senior management, in a top down approach, ensures the resources and training are made available to produce accurate records. A high-ranking company official has the authority to ensure the recordkeeping function is performed appropriately.

The OSHA Summary Form 300-A is available for download from OSHA's recordkeeping site, www.osha-slc.gov/recordkeeping/index.html.

What's Next?
On Jan. 1, 2003, the new hearing loss recording criteria became effective. Employers are required to record work-related hearing loss cases when an employee's hearing test shows a 10-decibel (dB) standard threshold shift from his/her initial hearing test and the employee has an overall hearing level of 25 dB or more. The old criteria recorded just 25-dB shifts in hearing. The following chart should help clarify this:

Additionally, the OSHA Form 300 will be updated in January 2004 to add a new hearing loss column.

More Resources
There are certainly many other questions of interest regarding specific OSHA recordkeeping provisions or individual case scenarios that have not been answered here. OSHA has provided many resources to assist. Most of these resources are only a mouse click away on the OSHA Web site.

OSHA's recordkeeping site includes the 300 series forms and standard text, along with a Frequently Asked Questions section and many other useful tools. For those who like to know what is behind a particular requirement, the full-text Federal Register Final Rule for "Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements" (document # 66:5916-6135, dated Jan. 19, 2001) is available from the OSHA recordkeeping Web page (www.osha-slc.gov/recordkeeping/index.html), as well.

References
1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), CFR Title 29--Part 1904--"Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses," Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, 2001.
2. Federal Register, CFR Title 29--Parts 1904; 1952, "Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements," Document #: 66:5916-6135, 01/19/2001.

This article originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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