"The subcontractor may feel it has no authority to implement injury management because someone else is paying for insurance, just as they do for workers' compensation," she says. "OSHA regulations clearly state that the employer is responsible for its workers' safety. That means the subcontractor has a legal obligation and authority to control treatment of its employees, regardless of who pays the worker compensation bill."

In addition, contractors and subs can also obtain insurance to protect themselves from employee accidents that occur away from work. "They provide short-term disability so the worker won't be able to make a false work-related claim," Magnus says.

Prescriptive Practices

Even if a contractor already has a low TRIR, there's always room for improvement. For example, Scott Ritter, safety manager for Columbus, Ohio-based commercial contractor Elford Inc., discovered that the highest percentage of his firm's recordable injuries involved hands and soft tissue on the back and legs.

"For the hand injuries, we went out and bought all the different types of gloves the workers needed because they cost much less than an injury," Ritter says. "We also developed different protocols for which gloves are used for different types of work, such as demolition and framing."

Suspecting that the extensive use of various ladders might be contributing to soft-tissue injuries, Elford invested in several platform ladders to give employees a larger, more stable base to work from.

Ritter notes that there's no direct evidence that a subsequent decrease in soft-tissue injuries is a direct result of the ladder switch, "but it had to have an impact," he says. He adds that the company has also developed a program of task-specific stretching and flexing exercises as another preventative measure.

Though pleased with the program's success at shrinking an already low TRIR, Elford CEO Jim Smith believes the program would not be as effective without management setting the example to gain workers' buy-in for adopting these practices and holding each other accountable.

"You simply can't fake a safety culture," he says.

While OSHA has established the distinctions between what is and is not considered a recordable injury, contractors may still find themselves facing circumstances that defy conventional definitions. Several sources of guidance are available to help navigate these gray areas.

For example, osha.gov provides interpretations of workplace safety rules and responses to employers who request clarification of specific situations. Third-party safety consultants are also available to provide guidance or manage some or all aspects of a contractor's safety program.

Lessons Learned About Lowering Recordables

• Understand what injuries may be treatable using onsite first aid versus emergency room care.

• Establish relationships with clinics and physicians that are well-versed in OSHA incident-reporting rules.

• Ensure that all employees understand safety incident-reporting protocols and procedures.

• Be willing to experiment with potential safety improvement practices, including those that may have only indirect benefits.

• Gain worker buy-in to the company safety culture through ongoing management commitment and support.