OSHA's top official says he wants more compliance when it comes to workplace accident reporting, and he outlined a couple of ways he says the agency is going to get it.
Dr. David Michaels says he is "far from satisfied that employers are alerting OSHA to all of the accidents they are required to report under new federal regulations" that went into effect at the start of 2015.
“We think we're only getting a very small portion of the accidents that should be reported,” said Dr. Michaels, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health who is in charge of OSHA.
He made the remarks to Crain's Cleveland Business during a speaking engagement at a civic club in Cleveland, as well as to members of workplace safety training classes.
Despite what he says is low reporting compliance, OSHA says employers have already reported more than 3,800 accidents in just the first four months of this year.
New rules refresher
The federal regulations now in effect require employers to report any injury that requires an employee to be hospitalized (beyond a simple visit to the emergency room), or that results in the loss of a limb or eye.
Dr. Michaels reminded workers that if they know their employers are not reporting such accidents, they shouldn't hesitate to call OSHA themselves.
While acknowledging that nearly 4,000 such accidents in about four months sounds like a lot, Michaels says that by looking at things such as past accident history, workers' compensation claims and other data, they believe there are many more.
“We're getting a small percentage, well less than half. ... We know that from numerous studies that have been done,” Michaels said.
In the meantime, employers have a chance to come clean and report accidents that fall under the new rules before OSHA finds out and comes to them, possibly with a fine.
“We will eventually issue fines against employers who have failed to report, but we're not there yet,” Michaels said.
Michaels also reminded employers that some time later this year, OSHA will be adding another new wrinkle to the subject of workplace accidents; namely making accident reports public.
He said he believes that will act as a way to encourage employers with safety issues to address them, and also provide a forum to recognize employers who take steps to provide a safe workplace.
OSHA is finalizing the format right now, but will begin the practice “soon” in his words.
Recent legislative efforts
The Occupational Safety and Health Act became law in 1970. Since then, the act itself has not changed, but as Fortune reports, there have been attempts to bulk up workplace protections.
Half of all states have adopted their own OSHA plans, which must set workplace safety standards and penalties that are at least as stringent as ones at the federal level.
California, for instance, has the highest average penalty, at $5,733 per serious violation.
Fortune says "the Department of Labor has also placed more emphasis on criminal enforcement of workplace safety violations recently by referring more cases to the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys offices for criminal prosecution."
The Labor Department reportedly referred or assisted with the criminal prosecution of 27 cases in 2014, the highest ever.
Just last week, Minnesota Senator Al Franken introduced a bill that would make felony charges available for an employer’s repeated and willful violations of OSHA that result in a worker death or serious injury.
The bill also sets a minimum penalty of $50,000 for a worker fatality caused by a willful violation.
Since OSHA came into being in 45 years ago, an estimated 390,000 workplace deaths have taken place.