On May 12, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a long-awaited final rule requiring certain employers to electronically submit injury and illness data, providing for such data to be made publicly available, and updating employee notification and antiretaliation provisions.
OSHA is charged with enforcing the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), which applies to virtually all private employers. OSHA, either directly or through states with parallel agencies to which OSHA defers rulemaking and enforcement, requires almost all employers to prepare and maintain routine records of certain work injuries and illnesses (“recordable” incidents). These records include a report for each recordable incident (Form 301), a log of such incidents (Form 300), and an annual summary (Form 300A) that must be completed and posted even if no recordable incidents occurred during the year.
Previously, OSHA could obtain the establishment-specific injury and illness data contained in these routine records only in three limited ways: (1) workplace inspections, (2) surveys to employers under the OSHA Data Initiative, and (3) mandatory employer reporting of certain workplace illnesses and injuries, including fatalities.
The final rule greatly expands OSHA’s access to this information by requiring certain employers to regularly and electronically submit data from their routine records. Specifically, the rule requires the following:
- Establishments with 250 or more employees that are required to keep routine records must electronically submit required information from all three records annually (no later than March 2 of the year after the calendar year covered by the form).
- Establishments with 20 to 249 employees in certain industries must electronically submit required information from Form 300A annually (no later than March 2 of the year after the calendar year covered by the form).
- Establishments must electronically submit requested information from their routine records upon notification from OSHA
OSHA plans to phase in implementation of the data collection system beginning July 2017. By March 2019, all establishments covered under the final rule must submit all required information.
OSHA hopes the electronic submission requirements will help it use resources more effectively and encourage employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses by allowing the agency to obtain a much larger and more timely database of the information that most employers are already required to record.
Publication of illness and injury data
Notably, OSHA will make the collected information publicly available in a searchable online database. The agency hopes that researchers and the public will also be able to use the data to identify work-related hazards and particularly hazardous industries and processes.
OSHA insists that it doesn’t intend to release personally identifiable information from reported records and that it will use “software that will search for and de-identify personally identifiable information before OSHA posts the data.” Given the frequency of media reports on the fallibility of even the most sophisticated data security systems and companies, many are understandably skeptical about the agency’s ability to safeguard employee information under this new electronic reporting system.
Employee notification and retaliation
The final rule also amends OSHA’s record-keeping regulation with respect to how employers inform employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses. This part of the rule:
- (1) Requires employers to inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation;
- (2) Clarifies the existing implicit requirement that an employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses be reasonable and that a procedure that would deter or discourage reporting isn’t reasonable; and
- (3) Prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses, consistent with the existing “whistleblower” provisions in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act.
The third aspect of this part of the new rule is significant because it provides OSHA with an additional enforcement tool with respect to employee retaliation. Whereas OSHA could always take action against an employer in response to an employee complaint under Section 11(c), OSHA will now be able to issue citations to employers for retaliating against employees even absent an employee complaint. The agency anticipates that feasible abatement methods will mirror the remedies under Section 11(c), which include but aren’t limited to rehiring or reinstatement with back pay. Employers can contest citations before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
OSHA explains that the final rule prohibits retaliatory adverse action against an employee “simply because” she reported a work-related injury or illness. To that end, the final rule states that nothing in it “prohibits employers from disciplining employees for violating legitimate safety rules, even if the same employee . . . was injured as a result of that violation and reported that injury or illness.” Importantly, employees who violate the same work rule must be treated similarly regardless of whether they also reported a work-related illness or injury. The final rule notes that postinjury drug-testing policies and employee safety incentive programs will be scrutinized under this provision.
States with their own occupational safety and health plans will be required to adopt identical requirements in their record-keeping and reporting regulations.
The employee notification and retaliation provisions become effective August 10, 2016. The remainder of the final rule becomes effective January 1, 2017.
OSHA continues to push through initiatives intended to raise the bar on workplace safety and health standards, including with respect to employer record keeping and reporting. In light of the 80 percent penalty increases in effect this summer, you should consult with counsel to ensure you comply with any new obligations that may apply under this new rule.
Arielle Sepulveda is an attorney with Day Pitney LLP in Parsippany, New Jersey. She can be reached at 973-966-8063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.