OSHA Urged to Improve Underreporting of Injuries and Fatalities

September 25, 2018

OSHA must take steps to prevent underreporting of injuries and fatalities and ensure employers correct identified hazards, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) in a new report on the effectiveness of the Agency’s 2015 changes to its severe injury and fatality reporting program.

Under the 2015 changes, all workplace fatalities had to be reported to OSHA within eight hours, and employers had to report the hospitalization of one employee (rather than three as previously required) and all amputations and loss of an eye within 24 hours.

OIG’s report notes that employers reported 4,185 fatalities and 23,282 severe injuries to OSHA from January 2015 through April 2017. OIG also said that employers performed 14,834 investigations to evaluate the causes of the injuries, and OSHA conducted 10,475 onsite inspections based on employer-reported fatalities and severe injuries.

“OSHA had no assurance employers reported work-related inpatient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye,” the OIG report stated. “Estimates show employers do not report 50% or more of severe injuries. Moreover, OSHA did not consistently follow its policy to issue a citation when an employer failed to report work-related fatalities and severe injuries within the specified timeframes.”

OSHA issued 1,865 citations and imposed initial penalties totaling about $5.2 million for late reporting from January 1, 2015, through April 30, 2017, OIG said in its report. In March 2017, OSHA increased the penalty for not reporting a severe injury to up to $7,000 per violation to serve as a deterrent.

OIG recommended that OSHA develop formal guidance and train staff on how to detect and prevent underreporting of fatalities and severe injuries, consistently issue citations for late reporting and clarify OSHA’s guidance related to documentation of essential decisions, evidence required to demonstrate employers corrected all identified hazards and requirements for monitoring employer-conducted investigations.

In response to the OIG report, OSHA acknowledged that it can improve case file documentation to include essential decisions and to implement better the monitoring aspect of the program.  However, OSHA said it was not clear what additional measures it could take through formal guidance or training to prevent underreporting, absent statutory changes to allow the sharing of information.