By Rachel Leven - 10/28/11 10:00 AM EDT
Trade groups are urging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to abandon a proposed regulation that would require employers to report workplace injuries within eight hours and amputations within 24.
While OSHA and employee unions say the rule will help make the workplace safer, the National Association of Manufacturers and other employer associations say the requirement would be a nuisance and a job-killer.
“I think this is a very simple, easy and transparent modification,” said Bill Kojola, an industrial hygienist with the AFL-CIO’s Department of Safety and Health. “It modifies the reporting requirements in a very modest way for some of the most serious events that happen to workers in the workplace.”
Trade associations disagree. Joe Trauger, the vice president of human resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said the measure would hurt job creation and add new burdens to an already overregulated economy.
“The short time frame could create an undue burden on employers and employees, especially small-business owners in devoting already scarce resources ensuring that the employer is in compliance with all of these requirements,” Trauger said.
Other trade groups including the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the National Grain and Feed Association and Printing Industries of America expressed concerns about the reporting requirements in comments to OSHA. The retail association called the requirements “ambiguous and unrealistic.”
Current law only requires employers to report workplace fatalities within eight hours and in-patient hospitalizations involving three or more employees at a time. OSHA says tightening the reporting requirements will help the agency better identify the causes of workplace incidents while placing “relatively minimal burdens on employers.”
Trauger said the proposed regulation creates confusion about what needs to be reported, since medicinal practices vary across states regarding who is admitted for different injuries.
The timeline is also unrealistic, he said, since if an employee is injured on a weekend and the employer does not find out until the next business day, he could violate the new eight-hour requirement.
Finally, with the influx of individual workplace hospitalization reports, serious incidents could be lost among those caused by outside factors like pre-existing conditions, Trauger said.
“What we’re trying to get at here is the reporting of any injury that is alleged to or happened in the workplace. Is that going to make a safer workplace, or is it just data for the sake of data?” Trauger said. “Just because someone visits the hospital doesn’t make it a workplace-related incident.”
But Kajola said the expansion of reporting requirements and the collection of the data would help protect workers.
“I think that’ll help the agency identify what those hazards are and then think about how can we assist employers in … eliminating or decreasing or exposure to those hazards,” Kajola said. “It’s very important.”
Unions are not fully satisfied with the proposed rule. Many are upset that certain employers will remain partially exempt and would only have to report, but not keep records of, any data unless prompted by OSHA. Partially exempt employers in the current statute were low-risk industries under an older coding system, Standard Industrial Classification (SIC), that measured hazard risks for those with 10 or fewer employees.
The rule would use an updated coding system, the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), to classify which industries are considered low-risk, and would allow workplaces with 10 or fewer employers to remain partially exempt.
“Workers employed by small employers are certainly not immune from exposure to hazards in their workplaces that lead to death or serious injury/illness,” commented Kerry Korpi of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “And employers and establishments in the so-called ‘lower-hazard’ industries are also not devoid of serious hazards that can kill or disable workers.”
Having more data would also better illustrate the “nature of hazards in these sectors,” Korpi said.
Trauger said he hadn’t heard much from the association’s members about the switch to a new classification system.
“The change from SIC to NAICS, I believe, has been recommended going back I think a decade or so, and also in a recent GAO report, so I think we didn’t really … hear many concerns in membership about it.”
The rule would have an annual economic cost of approximately $8.5 million, according to agency estimates.
Employers across industries that are required to keep records will face a total of almost $13.1 million more in costs, with the additional reporting of hospitalizations and amputations costing $2.1 million. Employers newly partially exempt will save almost $6.7 million.
OSHA said the costs would be far outweighed by the benefits. OSHA will be able “to more effectively and efficiently target occupational safety and health hazards,” the agency stated in the proposed rule.
“If such improvements in information and enforcement save even one life every three to four years as a result of this proposed rule, they will more than pay for the costs associated with such notifications,” the agency wrote.
The comment period for the proposed rule ends Friday.