On January 9 – 10, 2014, OSHA held a public meeting at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. to give stakeholders the opportunity to provide oral remarks on the proposed rule aimed at amending its recordkeeping regulations with requirements for the electronic submission of injury and illness information. According to OSHA, the proposed requirements are not drastically different from the current requirements under the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) where data is collected on injuries and illnesses from approximately 80,000 employers with 20+ employees and used to target enforcement and compliance assistance activities. However, representatives from businesses and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce beg to differ. The debate over the proposed requirements drew comments from representatives in business, labor, and safety councils and associations, and it was clear — according to our J. J. Keller representative who attended the meeting — that there is a balance of support for and against the proposed rulemaking.
According to OSHA, under the proposed requirements for electronic reporting approximately 440,000 small companies (20+ employees) will be required to send in their annual summary of injuries and illnesses. As for larger companies (250+ employees), approximately 38,000 will need to submit injury and illness data on a quarterly basis. Although the proposed amendment does not add any new requirement to keep records; it does modify an employer's obligation to submit these to OSHA. OSHA says that these changes are necessary so that the government and researchers will have better access to data to encourage earlier abatement of hazards and improved programs to reduce workplace hazards and prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. OSHA also says that currently they only see 20 percent of the injury and illness data provided by employers. Under the new system, they will see 50 percent of the data.
However, from the perspective of business representatives who attended the meeting, a major concern lies in the area of posting injury and illness data online. Many business representatives believe that public access to this data will encourage employers to underreport as a result of the potential negative impact on their businesses' reputations. They are also concerned with liability. Business representatives fear that posting injury and illness data online will open the business up to the pursuit of trial lawyers and unions. Another concern of business representatives revolves around the costs associated with compliance, which can hurt business and job creation — especially the hiring of temporary workers.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed major concerns over the proposed rule. According to representatives, the chamber does not believe that OSHA has authorization under any statues to create this type of database on employers. In addition, representatives believe that there is a danger of proprietary information being shared through data collected on the number of hours worked and the number of employees at a company. They also stated that the proposed requirements are drastically different from the current ODI. Questions were raised as well with regard to whether or not this was a good use of OSHA's time and resources since the data submitted by larger companies, which will need to be more detailed and submitted quarterly, will produce approximately 900,000 different records that must be reviewed on an annual basis.
Supporters of the proposed requirements, which were mostly laborers, safety councils, and other associations, argue that the electronic submission of injury and illness information will help the government and researchers acquire the data necessary to initiate rulemakings and reduce workplace hazards to prevent injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. The National Safety Council, for example, supports amendments to the injury and illness recordkeeping rule because it believes electronic reporting will increase safety in the workplace and benchmarking potential. However, it also noted that there are potential issues with the rule such as duplicate reporting that OSHA must address. The American Society of Safety Engineers also showed support, but warned OSHA to proceed cautiously.