'Shadowy Practice' of Underreporting Injuries Concerns Senators

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether OSHA is effectively working to ensure employers accurately report injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Murray and Kennedy are concerned underreporting has become more prevalent in recent years while OSHA's efforts to monitor the accuracy of reporting have diminished, and they want the agency to be more proactive in regulating industries and verifying injury and illness report claims.

Because OSHA uses the illness and injury information that businesses provide to determine whom to inspect, there is an incentive for businesses to underreport, the senators say. "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," said Murray. "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."

In testimony before Murray's subcommittee last April, Dr. David Michaels, a professor of Occupational Health at George Washington University, said two-thirds of injuries and illnesses are being missed under current reporting methods. To correct this problem, Murray and Kennedy asked GAO to evaluate OSHA's efforts to ensure that employers are properly recording injuries and illnesses and to provide suggestions on how to improve the agency's efforts.

The senators also called for GAO to assess the trends in the number and types of recordkeeping audits and targeted inspections OSHA has conducted and provide information on any studies or research available on the extent to which employers underreport injuries and illnesses. They requested a survey of occupational physicians in professional associations, such as the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which has also expressed concerns about employer underreporting.

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