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OSHA Recordkeeping: Are Employers Under-Reporting or Not???

For at least the last 20 years, there has been much criticism and debate over the accuracy, or lack thereof, of the injury and illness data reported annually by the Bureau of Labor Stastistics (BLS).

According to BLS data, there has been a significant and steady decline in the injury/illness rates as demonstrated by the 8.9 cases per 100 full-time employees (FTE) in 1992 down to an all-time low rate of 3.9 cases per 100 FTE in 2008. This represents a 56% decline in the recordable rate over the past 18 years.

Among other factors, a steady and consistent downward slope of the rate line reinforces the notion of continuous improvement is behind the decline. Coupled with a steady declining Fatality rate line as well, one can confidently assert that progress, in aggregate, is being made. However, there is still a long road ahead for employers, workers, and all other stakeholders to drive all injury/illness/fatality rate numbers to zero.

Other the past decades, there have been quite a number of Congressional hearings which raised the issue of reporting accuracy. Various studies have been conducted. Numbers analyzed. But the issue remains as a topic of debate. Are the numbers and rates absolutely accurate? I don’t believe that anyone can, with great confidence, say that they are.

Frankly, I am not aware of any government numbers are within 0.000001% accuracy (exaggerated to make a point). But can have 95% confidence level? Higher? I certainly believe so. Remember, for cases where there may be “under-reporting”, we must also acknowledge that there may also be over-reporting of injury data as well. The over-reporting is often ignored, probably because no one (agency, insurance providers, etc) will view over-reporting as a ‘violation’. Silly perhaps. But not a violation. On a personal level, I have come across companies that intentionally over-report First Aid cases as Recordables because they want to ensure that the data is being collected as part of their continuous improvement program. (By the way, this is not recommended. Tracking First Aid and Near Miss cases are a smart idea, but putting them on OSHA logs is not. Track those, but on a separate log would be our suggestion.).

The new Administration, in its efforts to ensure that reporting data is accurate or empirically determine that the data is inaccurate, initiated a new National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Recordkeeping almost one year ago. However, according to media reports, the Agency has quietly put the NEP on the back-burner. Although the targeting methodology in the Compliance Directive called for the employers with low rates in high rate industries (sounds like a counter-intuitive targeting approach, but they figured that those employers would be more likely engaged in deliberate under-reporting.

As I mentioned earlier, over-reporting was not a focus area) to be inspected under the program, the Agency is now re-reviewing the targeting methodology because the violations OSHA was expecting to find are not materializing. No new inspections, according to reports, will be initiated until the targeting issue is addressed. In other words, OSHA could not find any ‘bad actors’ for under-reporting.

In a separate action, OSHA published a Federal Register Notice last week requesting information on workplace safety and health data collection and employer practices as they relate to recordkeeping and safety programs (see blog post on OSHA RFI). Now, it appears that the Government Accounting Office is preparing to launch a new study into employer safety incentive programs to determine if such programs are encouraging employees from reporting their injuries/illnesses on the job, thus, “providing evidence” that under-reporting is indeed a major problem.

Short summaries of these three actions (putting NEP on hold, RFI, and the GAO study) are provided below.

Why is this significant? Fair question. These sequential, and seemingly well-timed actions, give the appearance that critics of the reported data quality may have been 20-years-critics for naught.

*** Media report summaries ***

OSHA Fails To Find ‘Bad Actors’ In Recordkeeping NEP, Puts Program On Hold

OSHA has temporarily suspended federal inspection activity focused on employer under-recording and is now seeking additional targeting criteria, amid reports from sources that the agency has not found significant problems through a pilot enforcement program targeting the issue. OSHA sources and other stakeholders told Inside OSHA that the agency has not found the number or degree of violations it had expected to uncover through the program.

OSHA Publishes RFI to Collect Employer Data and Practices

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is soliciting public comments concerning the collection of information about the safety and health practices of private and public sector establishments in those states with OSHA-approved safety and health programs (State Plan states). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is undertaking a rulemaking effort directed toward requiring employers to establish injury and illness prevention programs to monitor and more effectively implement practices to mitigate workplace hazards, thereby reducing the incidence of employee injuries and illnesses. OSHA believes that widespread implementation of such programs will substantially improve overall workplace safety and health conditions.

GAO Begins Probe Into Whether Safety Incentive Programs Distort Reporting

The Government Accountability Office is gearing up to probe whether employer incentive programs discourage workers from reporting and affect the accuracy of injury and illness data, following up on a report it conducted last fall and in response to a request from lawmakers.


Prometrix Consulting, with a staff of former OSHA officials, offers expert consulting and training services to help clients ensure compliance with complex workplace safety and health requirements.

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