OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels

Pushing the Envelope

OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels has been persistent in trying to tackle big issues. The proposed rule to strengthen the eight-hour reporting requirement after work-related fatalities or hospitalizations is a perfect example.

Strident opposition may yet arrive, but the comments posted through July 25 about OSHA's proposed rule changing its recordkeeping regulation are measured and sensible. They commend the idea, point out parts of it that won't work well, and generally offer good suggestions. There was not yet a wave of identical opposing comments, although these fill some rulemaking dockets.

Many commenters point out that the proposed change to make any in-patient hospitalization reportable within eight hours is a poor idea. Employers in many circumstances won't find out about an employee's hospitalization that quickly, some wrote, adding that employers have no way to affect or be notified about a physician's decision to hospitalize an employee who shows up at an ER and claims a work-related ailment.

A few comments expressed skepticism that OSHA will have the human or financial resources to analyze so many reports and make good use of what it learns. Many said the proposed rule's partially exempt list of industries (these would no longer need to keep records consistently) is not concistent or fair.

The June 22 proposed rule would base the recordkeeping regulation on NAICS codes rather than the discarded SIC codes and also would change the fatality and hospitalization reporting mandate OSHA has used since 1994. OSHA currently requires employers to report to it, within eight hours, any work-related death or the in-patient hospitalization of three or more employees. The proposed rule would make any such hospitalization reportable within eight hours and any work-related amputation reportable within 24 hours.

What About Overseas Employees?
OSHA estimated 199,000 establishments with 5.3 million employees that have not been required to record injuries would need to do so, while another 119,000 establishments with 4.0 million employees and an estimated 76,000 injuries and illnesses per year are on the rule's partially exempt list. The timely reporting mandate would apply for an estimated 210,000 hospitalizations per year.

Alfred Pfluger of IBM posted this commment July 7: "Under the proposal, employers would be required to report to OSHA any work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations within eight hours, and work-related amputations within 24 hours. Under the current regulation, employers are required to report any work-related fatality and only work-related in-patient hospitalizations of three or more workers and are not required to report amputations. Being part of a large global corporation, we sometimes do not receive injury/illness data on the same day that the incident occurs, especially if an employee is on a global assignment, outside of continental US. We are more likely to receive information when more than one employee is injured. It would be difficult for us to be compliant with reporting any in-patient hospitalizations within eight hour[s], especially with the travelling employee, time zone issues, language barriers, communication issues. The primary concern would be care of the injured employee and then reporting the injury, which may be more than the 8 hour span. This is especially true in disaster situations. I would leave the current rule in place regarding inpatient hospitalization reporting."

The proposed rule's text said that making all in-patient hospitalizations and amputations reportable will aid injury prevention while imposing "relatively minimal" burdens on employers. The information will help OSHA target scarce resources to the most dangerous workplaces and to prevent future injuries at these workplaces, according to OSHA.

You can still file comments until Sept. 20.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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