The U.S. Labor Dept.'s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is an important agency with a difficult mission. One thing made clear by OSHA's current leadership is that the agency isn't getting the full picture of what's taking place on U.S. construction sites, partly because of underreporting of injuries and partly because of a lack of timeliness in the information it receives about accidents. To that end, OSHA has proposed changes—and the
comment period has just closed—to Recordkeeping Standard 29 CFR1904. One of the most important changes, for example, would require employers to report all inpatient hospitalizations within eight hours and all work-related amputations within 24 hours.
In contrast, the current regulation stipulates that employers are required to report within eight hours fatalities and inpatient hospitalizations of three or more employees.
OSHA says the estimated $8.5-million cost to employers is far outweighed by the benefits.
One advantage of faster reporting is that OSHA would get to the workplace sooner to investigate the cause of an accident. During a prior change in its reporting standard in 1994, OSHA said more prompt reporting enables the agency to inspect the site of the incident and interview personnel while their recollections are fresh and untainted by other events. Presumably this notion precludes coaching by fearful employers or concealment of information by employees, which are never kosher.
OSHA also claims it could better target unsafe employers and hazards with the information flow produced by faster reporting. Some states already require quicker reporting than does the current federal standard. Very small firms—say, fewer than 11 employees—will remain partially exempt from recordkeeping regulations but would be subject to the new reporting requirements for fatalities, inpatient hospitalizations and amputations.
In comments submitted to OSHA, construction employers worried about increased regulation at a time when business is so tough and the industry's safety profile is improving. They pointed out that some workplace-related hospitalizations have more to do with an employee's pre-existing medical condition than what happened on the job. When accidents do happen, said T. Peter Ruane, CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the "immediate focus should be on seeking medical care and eliminating hazardous situations." After-the-fact OSHA notification and intervention will not change a situation that already has occurred, Ruane said. "Earlier reporting has little if any impact on workplace safety."
By itself, this regulation isn't so bad. However, adding to the accumulated weight of all the regulatory and compliance requirements, no matter how well intended, saddles the industry with another burden at the worst time.