OSHA Letter on Recordkeeping Reveals Interesting Insights

I wrote earlier about OSHA’s activities in the area of Recordkeeping where the question was posited: Are Employers Under-Reporting? The debate on this question is literally decades old. Well, a new little wrinkle sort of entered the fold when the Assistant Secretary of OSHA wrote a follow-up to the open letter he had sent to Agency staff on July 19.

Considering that the Agency had temporarily put the NEP on Recordkeeping on hold because it wasn’t finding ‘bad actors’ in a manner that they were hoping/expecting, coupled with OSHA publishing and RFI asking – cynically – ‘are you under-reporting injuries and illness?, and the majority in Congress requesting a GAO study to investigate if employers are encouraging their employers to not report injuries or illnesses…. one might think that the three actions support to the notion that under-reporting is not as widespread a problem as some may believe.

In the October 15th follow-up letter, the following statement provides a new argument. Specifically, it states “…OSHA has initiated 187 inspections under the NEP. Almost 50 percent of the inspections conducted to date have found recordkeeping violations. The program focused initially on those high hazard establishments with the lowest injury and illness rates…”

What is peculiar about this quote? Well, if almost 50% of the NEP Recordkeeping inspections are resulting in Recordkeeping violations, then that means — obviously — that the IN-COMPLIANCE rate for these inspections is more than 50%! Consider, furthermore, that the national average in-compliance rate (where no violations are cited by the inspector) in FY2010 is 21%… as in 1-in-5.

Hmmm, the average in-compliance rate for recordkeeping inspections is greater than 50% whereas the overall national average is just 21%. So, a “typical (Federal) inspection” is 2.5+ times more likely to uncover a violation than a recordkeeping NEP inspection. Hardly an indication that under-reporting is a rampant problem. Nevermind that the NEP is neglecting to record cases of OVER-REPORTING. If accurate data is what “we” want, then “we” really ought to be getting the data right and not just finding cases of under-reporting. But that’s a topic for another day, perhaps.

All of this is in no way intended to imply that accurate data is not important. Proper recordkeeping is important and employers need to be conscientious in complying with OSHA reporting requirements! With the NEP now being expanded, employers really ought to take another look at not only their reporting history to make sure that recordables and loss-time/restricted/transferred injuries are properly classified, but also review their safety incentive programs to make sure that they are properly structured so that employees are not inadvertantly encouraged to “hide” injuries or illnesses.

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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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