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OSHA’s Web Reporting Tool: Use with Caution

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2016

By Eric J. Conn


In addition to employers’ longstanding obligation, as of Jan. 1, 2015, to report to OSHA all work-related fatalities within 8 hours, all employers were required to also begin reporting to OSHA, within 24 hours, all work-related in-patient hospitalizations (of just a single employee), amputations and losses of an eye.

Conn Maciel Carey

As of Jan. 1, 2015, employers must report an injury within 24 hours and a fatality within eight, either by phone or the new online portal which launched in January 2016.

OSHA is publishing the details about these reported injuries online.

My firm has written extensively about OSHA’s new reporting rule, including articles that:

Under the new reporting rule, employers have three ways to perfect the notification to OSHA. As has been compliant for a year, employers may call the nearest OSHA Area Office or call OSHA’s toll-free reporting hotline 800-321-OSHA.

The new rule also introduced a new reporting methodology—a web portal for online fatality and injury reporting. The web portal, however, was under development until just a couple of weeks ago.

Reporting via Web Portals

OSHA was very excited to introduce the new web portal because of the “success” of OSHA’s other recent experiment with web portal reporting, specifically whistleblower retaliation complaints.

OSHA
Having seen a surge in complaints filed through its online whistleblower complaints tool, OSHA sought to launch the web portal for injury and fatality reporting, serving an area it believes suffers from under-reporting.

A couple of years ago, OSHA introduced a convenient web portal for employees to report retaliation complaints, and the number of complaints filed by employees surged.

OSHA believes injuries and fatalities are being under-reported by employers, so OSHA supposed that could be addressed by this more convenient technology.

Proceed with Caution

While the online reporting portal is an easy method for reporting, and it is available 24/7, it does have major drawbacks.

Employers should be wary of using the web portal to report incidents for several reasons.

OSHA

The report by web portal appears to require more information than OSHA requires when reports are made by telephone. Specifically, it contains mandatory blanks to be completed on a variety of topics.

First, the report by web portal appears to require more information than what OSHA requires when reports are made by telephone. Specifically, the web portal has mandatory blanks to be completed for the following information:

  • Information about the location where the incident occurred;
  • Information about the incident, including:
    • Date incident occurred;
    • Time incident occurred;
    • What happened;
    • Additional information;
    • Number of fatalities; and
    • Number of hospitalizations;
  • Employer information;
  • Information for persons who OSHA can contact;
  • Information for each of the victims;
  • What the employee was doing just before the incident occurred;
  • What the injury or illness was;
  • What object or substance directly harmed the employee;
  • Was there a fatality;
  • Was victim hospitalized;
  • Was there an amputation; and
  • Was there the loss of an eye?

Not only does the required content of the report seem to be more substantial than what is called for during telephone reporting, but the mere fact that the report is being made in a written format at all should give employers serious pause.

Putting It in Writing

Providing a detailed explanation about an incident that has just occurred only a short time earlier, for which a thorough investigation could not yet have been completed, is a risky endeavor.

Memorializing these very preliminary conclusions in writing as the employer’s first official statement of the event makes it even riskier.

© iStock.com / Hallishadow

Be warned: providing a detailed explanation about an incident that has just occurred, and for which a thorough investigation could not yet have been completed, is a risky endeavor.

It is important to understand that anything employers provide in writing to OSHA can later be used against them as an admission in an OSHA enforcement proceeding arising out of the incident.

Likewise, these written statements will be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by plaintiffs’ attorneys, who can use the written statements as admissions in personal injury, wrongful death or property damage civil actions.

Other third parties—like the media, union organizers, or your competitors—may also access the written submissions by FOIA requests and use them in a variety of ways that may harm the company.

Accordingly, I advise the old-fashioned telephone call should remain the preferred method of reporting injuries and fatalities, even with OSHA’s new-fangled technology.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Eric J. Conn

Eric J. Conn is a founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey and Chair of the firm’s national OSHA • Workplace Safety Group. His practice focuses exclusively on issues involving occupational safety and health law. OSHA Watch offers general information but should not be construed as legal advice. Employers are always advised to seek appropriate counsel for individual issues. Contact Eric.

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Tagged categories: Epstein Becker Green; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; OSHA; Accidents; North America

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