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New OSHA Rule Calls for Employers to Electronically Submit Data

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new rule that takes effect January 1, 2017, to improve worker safety across the country. According to the new rule, certain employers must electronically submit illness and injury data. Employers already record this data for OSHA Injury and Illness forms, but this is the first time OSHA expects employers to also submit the information electronically.

What Does the New Rule Mean for Employees?

The new rule enables OSHA to analyze the data employers submit to ascertain compliance with federal law. OSHA will also post the information for public perusal on the administration’s website. By making this information available to the public, OSHA hopes to encourage employers to improve workplace safety, which translates into fewer accidents, injuries, and deaths.

The rule also prohibits employers from coercing or discouraging workers from reporting illnesses and injuries. OSHA now requires employers to provide valuable information to employees, such as their right to work in a hazard-free environment. Employees can report work-related incidents and injuries without fear of employer retaliation.

OSHA stated that it will use software that automatically redacts all employee-identification information from submitted firms. This protects the privacy of employees whose names and private information are on the OSHA 300 or 301 forms. The protection of employee privacy is a main priority for OSHA, and employees shouldn’t worry about OSHA publishing their private information under the new rule.

How Do Employers Comply With the New Rule?

In the next two years, OSHA will phase in the new reporting requirements in certain industries and enterprises. The projected compliance schedule mandates that establishments within specific industries and with more than 250 employees must submit information from the 2016 Form 300A as early as July 1, 2017. Businesses must then submit 2017’s information by July 1, 2018. Starting in 2019, these employers will be required to submit this data every year by March 2. Even if the establishment saw no injuries, it must still complete and post the OSHA 300A form electronically.

The industries OSHA lists as high-risk are the same establishments that must abide by the new electronic submission rule. The list encompasses dozens of different industries, from agriculture to dry-cleaning and laundry services. States with the OSHA State Plan must adopt the new rule and its requirements within six months after the publication of the final rule. The new rule does not affect the existing OSHA requirements for reporting catastrophic injuries, which employers must still follow.

Pros and Cons of the New Rule

An advantage of OSHA’s new rule is that employees will face less fear of retaliation, such as employer post-accident drug testing, and an easier reporting process. While drug testing after an accident is reasonable in some cases, it is often unnecessary and only serves to dissuade employees from reporting injuries or illnesses. OSHA can fine establishments it sees taking any measures like this to dissuade employee reporting. In the end, OSHA hopes employers will enhance their safety practices due to publicized reports, leading to fewer worker injuries.

The downside of OSHA’s new rule are the broad implications for employers. Raised penalty amounts for violating compliance could put business owners at risk of taking significant losses, and published accident reports could hurt business. Business owners must ensure that they meet the new rule’s stipulations and schedule, or they will face serious repercussions. All in all, OSHA’s new rule will likely enhance employee safety and support in the workplace across the most high-risk industries, educating employees on their rights and enforcing pre-established safety regulations.