Senators Seek GAO Investigation into Workplace Injuries, Illnesses Reporting

On April 22, U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether OSHA is effectively working to ensure that employers are accurately reporting injuries and illnesses in the workplace.

Murray and Kennedy stated they are concerned that underreporting has become more prevalent in recent years while OSHA's efforts to monitor the accuracy of reporting have diminished. If injuries and illnesses go underreported, OSHA cannot perform its mission to protect workers from workplace hazards like chemical exposure and dangerous machinery.

"When it comes to the health and safety of American workers, we can't allow OSHA to just take employers at their word," Murray said. "We need an agency that takes the initiative to keep businesses honest about the dangers their workers face."

Kennedy said, "More than 40 years after landmark occupational safety legislation was enacted, the workplace is still too dangerous for too many American workers. OSHA can't do its job to protect these workers if it doesn't know what is really going on. That's why this GAO report is important. It will give us the information we need to hold OSHA and employers accountable."

Because OSHA uses the illness and injury information that businesses provide to determine who to inspect, there is an incentive for businesses to underreport, the senators said. For this reason, Murray and Kennedy believe that OSHA must be more proactive in regulating industries and verifying injury and illness report claims.

"I want the GAO to take a good hard look at injury and illness reporting because frankly, it's a system that seems all too easy to game," Murray said. "In my hearings and in discussions with occupational health experts, I have heard about the shadowy practice of underreporting and I think it's time to shed some light on this process."

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