OSHA Targets Underreporting of Workplace Injuries

Recent government reports found that a high percentage of workplace injuries and illnesses are not being reported by employers. This reporting has prompted the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to launch an enforcement initiative focused on identifying employers who underreport workplace injuries and illnesses. OSHA has classified this initiative as a National Emphasis Program (NEP).

Work place injuries, accidents and illnesses, which are beyond the medical treatment of first-aid, are required to be reported on OSHA’s Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). Employers are also required to describe each workplace injury and illness on Form 301 (Injuries and Illnesses Incident Report).

However, despite these requirements, a recent report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that workplace illnesses and injuries are being significantly underreported. The “primary factor” found for this is that certain employer policies and practices, discourage workers (sometimes unintentionally) from reporting their injuries and illnesses. Further investigation revealed that workers may not report a work-related injury or illness because they fear job loss or other disciplinary action, or fear jeopardizing rewards based on having low injury and illness rates.

Employers investigated by OSHA whether through NEP or an independent audit and found to have violated their record-keeping obligations may be subject to appropriate citations and monetary penalties.

How to Avoid Potential Violation Claims

Companies should review, and if necessary, modify their current polices, practices and procedures to ensure that workers are being affirmatively encouraged to report injuries and illnesses. Companies should also incorporate a policy statement that workers will be protected against any unlawful retaliation for making such reports. Lastly, employers should carefully consider whether safety incentive programs in place may have the unintended consequence of discouraging workers from reporting injuries and illnesses, and if so, modify these programs accordingly.

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