SEPTEMBER 23, 2014: Last Friday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued final rules making significant changes to its injury and illness recording and reporting regulations. The current rule requires employers to report workplace fatalities and hospitalization of three or more employees to OSHA. The new requirement mandates OSHA notification for every employee work-related hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye.

The new rule preserves the current requirement for reporting fatalities or multiple hospitalizations to OSHA within eight hours. OSHA will require reporting for the new hospitalization and other requirements within 24 hours of their occurrence. In addition to the existing toll-free telephone number, OSHA is establishing an online registry through OSHA’s website as an alternative means to provide the required notice.

Hospitalization is defined as formal admittance on an in-patient basis involving at least one overnight stay. Amputations are defined as traumatic loss of a limb or partial loss, whether or not bone loss is involved (including fingertip loss), with or without patient hospitalization. The hospitalization rules include employee admittances for work-related illnesses in addition to traumatic injuries. Injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents on public roads are exempted from the reporting requirement.

Employers may not be immediately aware of the reasons for such hospitalization, and the reporting times run from the moment the employer learns that the admittance is related to a workplace injury or illness. Hospitalizations that occur more than 24 hours after a workplace “incident” do not need to be reported to OSHA. In other words, if an employee is hospitalized and claims it is due to long-term exposure to a workplace contaminant, this would not be a reportable incident, although it may need to be included in the OSHA 300 injury and illness log report.

In some cases, employers suspect that claimed employee injuries or illnesses are not actually work-related. When such employees are hospitalized, the employer will not have time to conduct a thorough review of the circumstances, and in most cases will need to report the claimed work-related injury or illness to OSHA within the 24-hour time period. The new rules make no provision for corrected notice to OSHA if the hospitalization is later determined not to have been work-related, but employers can make corrections to the OSHA 300 log.

OSHA expects its notification burden under the new rules to rise from 4600 to 210,000 notices per year. In the past, notification of a fatality or multiple hospitalization guaranteed a response and usually a visit from an OSHA investigator. Given the broad expansion of these reporting requirements, the agency simply does not have the resources to investigate each individual employee hospitalization. Employers will not know what degree of follow-up will result from their reports. OSHA somewhat cryptically says that it will only follow up on reports where the hospitalization appears to indicate a remediable hazard.

The final rule also includes updates to the list of industries exempt from OSHA’s illness and injury record keeping requirements. Businesses exempt from these general requirements still must comply with the death and hospitalization notification requirements. The new rules become effective January 15, 2015. OSHA will issue notice of its new web portal for reporting between now and that date.

………………….

Information courtesy of Jonathan Crotty and Charlotte Offerdahl, Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP