The federal agency charged with setting and enforcing workplace safety standards published a proposed rule Wednesday in the Federal Register intended to ensure employers would be aware of their duty to track and to report workplace illnesses and injuries. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration published the rule to clarify that such recordkeeping is an "ongoing obligation."
The proposed rule is titled "Clarification of Employer's Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain an Accurate Record of Each Recordable Injury and Illness." Public comments on the proposal will be accepted until Sept. 28.
"Accurate records are not simply paperwork, but have an important, in fact life-saving purpose," OSHA's Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels said. "They will enable employers, employees, researchers and the government to identify and eliminate the most serious workplace hazards - ones that have already caused injuries and illnesses to occur."
OSHA made it quite clear that the regulation, if enacted, would not require employers to keep injury and illness records that have not been already required.
"OSHA's recordkeeping regulations require employers to record information about certain injuries and illnesses occurring in their workplaces, and to make that information available to employees, OSHA, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics," according to the agency's official notice of the proposed rule. "Employers must record work-related injuries and illnesses ... including injuries and illnesses resulting in death, loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer, medical treatment beyond first aid, or a diagnosis of a significant injury or illness by a physician or other licensed health care professional."
In addition to informing employers of areas in which illness and injury may be prevented, the five-year recordkeeping requirement also alerts workers to the hazards that surround them.
"[Employees] who have access to OSHA injury and illness records throughout the five-year retention period can use information about the occupational injuries and illnesses occurring in their workplaces to become better informed about, and more alert to, the hazards they face," the federal notice reads. "Employees who are aware of the hazards around them may be more likely to follow safe work practices and to report workplace hazards to their employers. When employees are aware of workplace hazards, and participate in the identification and control of those hazards, the overall level of safety and health in the workplace can improve."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects the workplace illness and injury data. As the notice explains, "Congress, OSHA, and safety and health policymakers in Federal, State, and local governments use BLS statistics to make decisions concerning safety and health legislation, programs, and standards. And employers and employees can use BLS statistics to compare the injury and illness data from their workplaces with data from the nation as a whole."
Before the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 went into effect, the Education and Labor Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives noted that it was difficult to determine workplace safety issues nationwide because of the differences in state reporting requirements. Hence, Congress back then decided it was an "evident Federal responsibility" to establish uniformity in the reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses.
The feds are covering recordkeeping. What about the victims and the long-term implications to which workplace illnesses or injury may give rise? The injured parties have rights. Reporting requirements notwithstanding, workplace injury and illness may be compensable.
Victims of workplace injuries and illnesses are often compensated through workers' compensation. Nevertheless, one might be entitled to personal injury compensation if he or she is injured due to the negligence of a contractor, a vendor, the maker of a defective product or another third party. For this reason, it is imperative to speak with an attorney to determine whether there is a viable personal injury claim arising from a workplace injury.
Reich & Binstock handles the following types of cases:
- Construction site accident injuries
- Oil and gas industry accident injuries
- Explosion injuries
- Electrocution and electrical burns
- Fire injuries and smoke inhalation
- Toxic chemical exposure
- Occupational diseases such as asbestosis, occupational asthma, eczema and lead poisoning
- Defective tools
- Defective machinery
The injured are entitled to the maximum compensation. An attorney can help.