OSHA focus on underreported injuries and illnesses
Underreporting of workplace injuries and illnesses is widespread, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) auditing process has failed to identify and correct this, according to a report, issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report identifies a number of factors that may contribute to the inaccuracy of employer injury and illness records, and inadequacies with OSHA’s records audit process, including:
- There are inherent pressures not to report injuries or to minimize
- Employees are afraid of losing jobs, receiving discipline, or being
drug tested (even where drug use plays no part in causation).
- Occupational health practitioners are pressured by employers to provide
insufficient treatments to hide or downplay work-related injuries so
that they are not OSHA recordable.
- While safety programs designed to reduce injuries, lost time on the
job, and insurance costs can motivate employees to work in a safe manner;
they can also create a disincentive for reporting injuries.
- Employers downplay an injury or illness because they are afraid of
increasing their Workers’ Compensation costs or jeopardizing their chances
of winning contract bids.
OSHA agreed with all of the GAO’s recommendations to:
- Require inspectors to interview workers during records' audits and
substitute other workers when those initially selected are unavailable.
- Minimize the time between the date the employers record injuries and
illnesses and the date they are audited.
- Update the list of high-hazard industries used to select worksites
for records' audits.
- Increase education and training to help employers better understand
the recordkeeping requirements.
Lessons to be learned:
OSHA will be more vigilant in exploring how employees might be reluctant to
report injuries at the workplace. Red flags for OSHA might be a labor intensive
employer with little to no reported claims or a disproportionate number of
lost time claims to medical only claims. Typically, this ratio is one lost
time claim for every three medical only claims or lost time representing approximately
25% of all claims. You may also want to check with your state’s insurance department
to find out what is average for your jurisdiction. You will need to ask for
the total number of claims filed and the total number of lost time or indemnity
Keep these lessons in mind when designing and implementing incentive programs and injury-reporting systems.