The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released an analysis of OSHA’s efforts to ensure that work-related injuries and illnesses are properly recorded by employers.  Members of Congress had requested that the GAO determine (1) whether DOL verifies that employers are accurately recording workers’ injuries and illnesses and, if so, the adequacy of these efforts, and (2) what factors may affect the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records.  The GAO study is another piece of the "under-recording puzzle" that is the focus of great attention by OSHA.

The GAO concludes that there are several deficiencies in OSHA’s recordkeeping audit verification program in terms of the ability of the audits to determine if employers are accurately recording injuries and illnesses that occur at the worksite:

  • OSHA does not always require inspectors to interview workers about injuries and illnesses.
  • Many workers are no longer employed at the worksite and therefore cannot be interviewed. 
  • OSHA does not review the accuracy of injury and illness records for worksites in eight high hazard industries because it has not updated the codes used to identify the industries in its recordkeeping rule.

The GAO also identifies disincentives to workers reporting injuries and illnesses, including fear of job loss or other disciplinary action and fear of jeopardizing rewards based on having low injury and illness rates.  The GAO also surveys U.S. health practitioners and concludes that over a third of them have been subjected to pressure from employers or workers to provide insufficient medical treatment to avoid the need to record injuries or illnesses.

In response to its findings, the GAO makes four recommendations to OSHA:

  • Require inspectors to interview workers during records audits and substitute other workers when those initially selected are unavailable.
  • Minimize the time between the date injuries and illnesses are recorded by employers and the date they are audited.
  • Update the list of high hazard industries used to select worksites for records audits.
  • Increase education and training to help employers better understand the recordkeeping requirements.

OSHA agreed with all the recommendations.   It stated that it would require inspectors to interview employees during records audits and develop policies to conduct audits in a timely fashion.  It also stated that it would pursue rulemaking to update the industry coverage of the recordkeeping rule from SIC codes to NAICS codes.  Finally, it committed to supplement its current outreach efforts on recordkeeping compliance.

Of course, OSHA has also implemented its Recordkeeping NEP, which will focus OSHA enforcement resources on investigating the extent to which employers are under-recording injuries and illnesses.

Employers must take steps now to ensure that they have been, and are, accurately recording injuries and illnesses that occur at work.