American businesses spend more than $1 billion a week on workplace injuries, according to the Liberty Mutual Workplace Injury Survey. A company that can’t get injuries under control may pay for it in:
- Higher workers comp costs,
- Increased OSHA recordables, which may threaten their ability to work for customers,
- Lost productivity, and
- potentially higher health care costs if injuries manifest themselves in other health problems.
No wonder so many businesses worry about injuries. But there is a difference between worrying and doing something about it. The key is to put a management system in place to prevent and reduce the impact of injuries. Recently we developed a paper that identifies steps companies can take to start managing injuries in an effective, systematic way.
The Rule: OSHA dropped a surprise in industry’s lap when it put out its new regulations on reporting injuries and illnesses. As expected the rule requires electronic reporting of OSHA recordables. However, the rule also included language preventing employers from discouraging reporting of injuries and that section was supposed to be enforced starting in August.
The Delay: After a lot of pushback from industry and a lot of confusion over how companies were supposed to comply, OSHA has delayed enforcement until November. That will give OSHA time to release guidance for companies on compliance and companies to get their policies in place.
The Reason: The provision that is being delayed makes companies responsible for making sure that workers report injuries. It says companies need policies to:
“establish a reasonable procedure for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. A procedure is not reasonable if it would deter or discourage a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness.”
The provision also says employers “must not discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness.” What does that mean? In the background to the rule, known as the Preamble, OSHA says companies cannot use drug and alcohol testing as a way to discourage reporting. That has a lot of experts scratching their heads over how they can prove that tests were warranted, not to mention that one of the reason to test in the first place is to help make sure workers are not impaired on the job. Theoretically that will be sorted out in the new guidance.
Why November? It does give industry another three months to implement the change. It is also so close to the election that Congress will be out of session and, unless there is a lame duck session, may into be back until the new year, making it harder for opponents to block the new rule.
What Companies Should Do? Don’t drag your feet. November will be here in no time!
- Do a gap analysis of your existing policies. Do they say anything about encouraging employees to report? How do you communicate with employees on the subject of injuries?
- Start drafting new policies or figuring out how to spread the word. It would be good to let your employees know in writing that you encourage reporting of injuries.
- Consider holding off on the final policy change until OSHA issues guidance. That way you can make that your approach is in line with OSHA’s directives.
- Don’t ignore the main point of the regulation. The requirement for many companies to start reporting their injury statistics on line kicks in on January 1st, 2017.