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Occupational Safety Blog

By Fred Rine, CEO of FDRsafety and former long-time Managing Director of Safety and Health at FedEx, Jim Stanley, President of FDRsafety and former No. 2 at OSHA headquarters and Mike Taubitz, Senior Advisor to FDRsafety and former Global Safety Director for General Motors.

Archive for the ‘Recordkeeping’ Category

The problem with publishing OSHA 300 logs

December 16th, 2013 posted by Fred Rine

Fred Rine

OSHA’s proposal to publish online the workplace injury and illness reports from companies with more than 250 workers may at first blush sound like a good idea in this age of transparency, but there are some good reasons not to do this.

Many companies under OSHA’s  jurisdiction have to make an annual report to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on illnesses and injuries on their worksites, and these reports, called OSHA 300 logs, are posted for employees to see. But as my colleague Jim Stanley’s comments to The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio illustrate, those logs don’t tell the whole story.

The logs contain statistical data on injuries and illnesses, but provide no insight as to the cause. Was an accident caused, for example, by an employee who violated safety rules? That is certainly a possibility, but the natural assumption by a member of the public reading these reports would likely be that the company was at fault. That would potentially create an unfair hit on the employer’s reputation.

In addition, that potential reputational damage may discourage some employers from fully reporting. There are gray areas in the definitions of reportable injuries or illnesses, and some employers may be inclined to fudge.

But the biggest question about the proposal is this: What will publication of these reports do to increase protection for workers? That is a question without a good answer.

OSHA is watching – for 30 years

October 17th, 2012 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

A lot can change for a company over 30 years – new leadership, new locations, new products, new services. But one thing must remain constant, according to an often-overlooked OSHA standard: the preservation of certain kinds of records.

Curtis Chambers provides an excellent reminder about that standard in the current edition of the OSHA Training blog.

The standard, OSHA 1910.1020, imposes two requirements on employers:

A) Maintain certain exposure records (including old MSDSs) and/or written programs for 30 years, and certain medical records for the duration of an affected worker’s employment plus 30 years; and,

B) Notify affected employees when they first start work and at least annually thereafter of the existence of these records and their availability to the worker or their designated representative (e.g.: authorized union representative; an attorney or other person to whom the employee has given specific written consent to exercise a right of access).

Included, among others, are records of air surveys, noise surveys, employee medical examinations prior to wearing a respirator, biological or medical monitoring due to work with a hazardous chemical or substance, and development by an employer of an exposure control plan under OSHA’s bloodborne pathogens standard.

Curtis’s blog post does a nice of recapping some of the nuances of this standard along with some tips for compliance. It’s a good reminder that keeping in compliance with OSHA requires continual vigilance.

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Will your safety incentive plan be OK with OSHA?

April 27th, 2012 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

As mentioned in a previous post OSHA is warning companies not to structure rewards programs — whether intentionally or not — so that they encourage employees not to report injuries or illnesses.

An example might be offering the chance to enter a prize drawing to all employees not injured in the previous year.

So how can you know if your program is structured properly? The law firm of Ogletree Deakins is offering a webinar “Safety Incentive Programs Under Attack by OSHA — Is Your Plan Vulnerable?”

Participating will be attorneys Melissa A. Bailey and H. Bernard Tisdale III. James McGrew will moderate.

The webinar will be offered Tuesday, May 22, at 2 p.m. Eastern. Register here.

Court strikes down OSHA recordkeeping violations issued years late

April 9th, 2012 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

A federal appeals court has struck down recordkeeping violations issued by OSHA against a petrochemical construction and maintenance company for allegedly failing to report workplace injuries that in many cases occurred years before the citations were issued.

The ruling goes against a long-time OSHA position that failure to accurately record injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 log from years past is a continuing violation and that the OSH Act’s statute of limitations (6 months) does not apply.

In a decision issued Friday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously ruled that the OSHA violations issued against the company exceeded the statute of limitations. The violations were issued in November 2006 against Volks Constructors for allegedly failing to record some workplace injuries between January 2002 and April 2006, according to McDermott Will & Emery, the law firm that represented Volks.

The court’s decision reversed a decision by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to uphold the violations.

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Court questions OSHA’s view on meaning of ‘work-related’ injury

April 2nd, 2012 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

A federal appeals court decision has pushed back against what appears to be an attempt by OSHA to expand the definition of a “work-related” injury.

The case involved an OSHA citation against Caterpillar Logistics Services for allegedly failing to record an ergonomic injury on its OSHA log. The employee involved was diagnosed with an elbow condition after working five weeks in the company’s packing department.

However an internal review panel concluded that repetitive motion on the job was not the only cause of the injury and the company decided not to post the injury on its OSHA log.

OSHA said, however, that the injury was work-related and cited the company failing to record the injury. An administrative law judge who upheld OSHA’s determination concluded that “an employee’s work activities do not have to be the cause, but rather a cause of an injury or illness” to be recordable.

The 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, based in Chicago, overturned that determination. The Court criticized the administrative law judge for basing his decision on the sole physician to testify in support of OSHA’s position and ignoring the “strong indications that [his] favored witness got things wrong.” The Court discounted OSHA’s physician’s testimony because he failed to explain why, if the work activities in the packing department contribute to the elbow injury, no other worker in the company’s 10 years of operations had contracted this same condition.

According to an analysis of the case by the EpsteinBeckerGreen law firm “because of the Caterpillar Logistics case, it remains unsettled whether an employee’s job duties must be the cause of an injury or illness or a cause to constitute work-relatedness.”

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Safety rewards programs may violate OSHA rules

March 29th, 2012 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

OSHA is warning employers to be careful about rewards programs that could unintentionally – or perhaps even intentionally – encourage employees not to report injuries.

In a recent communication, OSHA cited as an example a program in which employers created a prize-drawing for all employees who had not been injured in the previous year. Another example of a bad practice in OSHA’s view is giving a team of employees a bonus if no one from the group was injured in a given period of time.

So what can employers do to reward safety oriented behavior?

Here are examples of activities for which OSHA believes rewards are appropriate:

· Identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents or “near misses”
· Serving on safety and health committees
· Suggesting ways to strengthen safety and health
· Completing a company-wide safety and health training program

OSHA warns that failure to structure rewards programs in an appropriate way could result in violations of rules requiring an employer not to discriminate against an employee who exercises their right to report an injury. An improper rewards program could also lead to violations of recordkeeping rules, OSHA said.

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The past, present and future of occupational safety

January 16th, 2012 posted by Mike Taubitz

Mike Taubitz

It’s the time of year when many people do a personal evaluation with the thought of improving themselves during the coming year. This post suggests reviewing how we are practicing the profession of safety by looking at the ghost of decades past, the present and what the “ghost” of the future might tell us.

The past

The past four decades were a period focused mainly on OSHA compliance, with efforts geared to identifying hazards, implementing safeguards and lots of training. Most of the effort was program related, often confusing management and supervision as well as employees.

Lockout, slips, trips, falls, material handling, confined space, PPE, HazCom, and literally dozens of other regulations or safety programs were typically implemented as functional silos – all with their own terms. Along the way, we adopted OSHA recordkeeping as the primary means of tracking performance. The quest to continuously improve OSHA recordable cases for that elusive goal of “zero injuries” was a mantra often heard in the safety community. The question I would pose is, “Gee, what if I get to the top of the ladder and find out I’m on the wrong wall?”

The present

Unfortunately, we still have a strong OSHA focus. We bemoan that OSHA recordables are lagging indicators but do very little to develop new metrics for a more proactive look at things. Enlightened safety pros have moved to a systems approach that integrates the various programs into a cohesive system focused on continuous improvement.

Such systems demand leadership and employee participation and have proven to be successful when properly implemented. Concurrent with systems thinking has been the active use of risk assessment to complement traditional hazards assessment. Tools like task-based risk assessment recognize the realities of the workplace and do not skirt the issues where power must be on, work performed at elevation, etc. Through the application of the hierarchy of controls, risks can be mitigated allowing the work to be performed with acceptable risk. Those using the latest state of the art tools and thinking are making real headway — but still missing the real issue.

The future

The ghost of the future would probably ask, “Why do you folks insist on working on 4% of the problem? Is the “ghost of OSHA past” so strong that you cannot expand your focus and address the 96% of accidental deaths occurring off the job?” This is the real future of safety – tackling the bigger issue without abandoning the occupational focus.

In fact, you’ll find that making safety a 24-7 family driven value can do much to help your in-plant efforts. That is the opportunity. The challenge will come from the strategic initiatives of sustainability and corporate social responsibility that demand a broader focus of efforts geared to the family and society. If safety is not at the forefront, we will be pushed further to the back burner and CEOs will find other means and methods to address these strategic challenges.

Take stock of how you see and practice our profession. Are you in the past, the present or the future? When you climb the ladder of successfully reducing risk, make sure you are climbing the right wall – the wall of safety 24-7.

Barab claim that half of workplaces underreport to OSHA seems doubtful

December 2nd, 2011 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

Jordan Barab, the No. 2 official at OSHA, made a shocking statement at a recent public health conference, as reported by Occupational Safety and Health Reporter: Half of workplaces inspected under a recent national emphasis program were underreporting injuries and illnesses.

Under the pilot program, OSHA inspected about 350 workplaces suspected of providing inaccurate reports of workers’ injuries and illnesses. The program was a relaunch of an earlier version that was halted because inspectors failed to find the underreported injuries and illnesses they were expecting.

After all the confusion surrounding the original pilot and its failure to find recordkeeping violations, I have substantial doubt that a new look at targeted companies could really find legitimate accidents and illnesses that were never reported. On the other hand, given the complexities of OSHA’s current recordkeeping requirements, it is possible that some of the injuries and illnesses were recorded improperly.

In my opinion, this pilot program is evidence that OSHA has misplaced its priorities. The agency has limited resources, as do businesses. Instead of splitting hairs about inaccurate recordkeeping, time and attention needs to go towards identifying hazards in the workplace and their correction before injuries or illnesses occur. Everyone agrees that this will produce safer workplaces.

OSHA points to decline in injuries, illnesses but there is more to the numbers

November 4th, 2011 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced that non-fatal injuries and illnesses in private industry declined by 200,000 from 2009 to 2010.

OSHA hailed that as good news, and rightly so. But to gain a fuller understanding of the numbers, you need to look at statistics going back a number of years.

These statistics show that the number of illnesses and injuries in private industry have been on a steady decline for years, as shown in this chart created by the government which tracks injury and illness numbers from 1994 to 2010.

That, of course is great news, as well. But it also demonstrates that maybe OSHA’s enforcement crackdown over the last two-plus years hasn’t changed the trend.

What’s ahead for OSHA

In announcing the numbers, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis gave some indications about where the agency will be focusing in the future: recordkeeping, the healthcare industry and public sector employers.

“We remain concerned that more workers are injured in the health care and social assistance industry sector than in any other, including construction and manufacturing,” she said.

“Illness and injury rates for public sector workers also continue to be alarmingly high at 5.7 cases for every 100 workers, which is more than 60 percent higher than the private sector rate,” Solis said.

“A report like this also highlights the importance of accurate record keeping.” she said. “Employers must know what injuries and illnesses are occurring in their workplaces in order to identify and correct systemic issues that put their workers at risk. We are concerned with poor record-keeping practices and programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses.”

Too much focus on recordkeeping

My concern with this focus is that it prompts employers to expend their limited safety resources on recordkeeping requirements rather than continuing to identify and correct hazards and behaviors in the workplace. A tremendous amount of industry resources are devoted, for example, to trying to determine whether an injury should be classified as first aid, medical treatment or restricted duty. At the same time, OSHA has recently determined that falls from heights is the most violated standard.

I can’t believe that OSHA is expending their limited resources in recordkeeping yet OSHA still has general industry fall protection regulations that are totally inadequate. Somehow OSHA’s priorities have been misplaced.

OSHA proposals on ergonomics, I2P2 tangled in fighting over budget

October 12th, 2011 posted by Jim Stanley

Jim Stanley

Two controversial proposals by OSHA are becoming entangled with partisan fighting over the federal budget.

A spending bill crafted recently by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), chairman of the House Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, would block OSHA from moving ahead on proposals to change the way ergonomic injuries are reported and to create an Injury and Illness Prevention Program.

As reported by The Hill, a Washington publication, Rehberg’s bill drew immediate criticism from the Obama administration and the AFL-CIO.

The ergonomics bill would create a separate column for musculoskeletal injuries on the injury log that employers must submit to OSHA. Business groups have said that this is the first step towards reviving efforts to create an OSHA standard on ergonomics, an effort which failed 10 years ago.

The Injury and Illness Prevention Program – I2P2 for short – would require employers to develop safety programs that conform with specific federal guidelines. Business groups have objected that such a program would be a bureaucratic nightmare, creating guidelines that would not fit well with a wide variety of industries and business conditions.

At a hearing last week, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of the House subcommittee on workforce protections, said that the costs of regulations can be significant and can cause employers to refrain from hiring new workers.

OSHA administrator David Michaels defended the safety regulations, saying, “OSHA regulations don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers.”

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