OF CHARLES N. JEFFRESS
FOR OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
SUBCOMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE PROTECTIONS
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE
July 20, 2000
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee:
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) proposed recordkeeping rule. I will discuss OSHA's proposal to improve the quality of data collected from employers and simplify recordkeeping requirements.
History of the Rule
As you know, the original requirement for reporting and recording work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths was established in section 8(c)(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act). At the time of enactment, the Congress was concerned over the lack of reliable statistics on workplace safety and health. Voluntary reporting systems in place before enactment of the OSH Act produced data that were considered unreliable by workers and employers.
Shortly after passage of the OSH Act OSHA issued a regulation to implement the recordkeeping and reporting requirements (29 CFR 1904). This regulation has been amended in the past 30 years to reduce recordkeeping requirements for small business employers and employers in low-hazard industries, to improve workers' access to records, and to allow employers to computerize some of their records.
Originally, administration of the recordkeeping system was assigned to OSHA and to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). OSHA received responsibility for issuing and enforcing the regulation while BLS provided guidance to employers and interpreted the requirements for the regulated community. In 1972, BLS issued guidelines for employers on which cases to report and how to record them. The guidelines were updated in 1973, 1975, 1978, and 1986 in order to answer new questions and provide additional assistance to employers.
In 1990, responsibility for recordkeeping functions was transferred to OSHA so that enforcement and recordkeeping development would be coordinated. Prior to this transfer BLS had been working on a revision of the recordkeeping regulation based on recommendations of a study conducted by the National Research Council in 1987 and a study conducted in 1989 by the Keystone Center. These reports, along with several GAO reports recommending revision of the rule as well as complaints that the requirements were too complex, led OSHA to develop a proposal to revise the recordkeeping system. OSHA is revising the system to keep pace with emerging issues, make the guidelines accompanying the rule less complicated, simplify the required forms, and place interpretations in fewer documents. In February 1996, OSHA proposed a new regulation, new forms, and elimination of some requirements.
Importance of Injury/Illness Records
OSHA's injury/illness records allow OSHA to do a number of things: (1) track patterns of occupational injury and illness; (2) target the agency's enforcement and outreach resources to the most dangerous worksites, industries and hazards; (3) measure the effectiveness of the agency's programs to determine which work best; (4) measure progress in improving workplace safety and health at individual worksites and in various industries; (5) identify emerging hazards; and (6) serve the public interest by providing reliable data about the extent of occupational injury, illness, and mortality.
Section 24 of the OSH Act requires the Department of Labor to maintain an effective program for compiling and analyzing occupational safety and health statistics. Employers' records are the source data for BLS' Annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. BLS uses survey data to compile statistics on the numbers and rates of occupational injuries and illnesses nationwide, categorized by industry and industry subsector. BLS also produces statistics on the demographics of injured workers, such as age, sex, and occupation, as well as the characteristics of the injury and illness, such as part of body affected, nature of illness, and event or exposure that cause the injury or illness.
Injury/illness records guide enforcement as well. For many years, the effectiveness of OSHA's inspection targeting system was limited because the agency had access only to aggregate industry data and could not separate safe workplaces from unsafe ones within a given industry. Critics complained that OSHA spent too much time inspecting relatively safe workplaces and too little time addressing the most hazardous activities. In response the agency worked to develop a new targeting system based on worksite-specific data. In 1999, OSHA initiated its Site-Specific Targeting Program, which focuses inspections on the worksites with the highest injury/illness rates. These sites are identified from a universe of about 80,000 workplaces in hazardous industries which send injury and illness data to OSHA. We hope to conduct about 4,000 site-specific visits in FY 2001. Targeted inspections, guided by data, allow OSHA to focus its efforts on workplaces with the highest numbers of injuries and the largest numbers of serious hazards.
OSHA's cooperative programs depend heavily on reliable statistics. For instance, without the important information provided by employers' records, state consultants would have to rely on direct observations of safety and health hazards present on the day of an on-site consultation visit, in many cases diminishing their ability to make appropriate recommendations. Injury/illness records also make it possible for OSHA to recognize employers in the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) as exemplary because the agency can measure the level of safety and health at VPP establishments compared with other employers in the participant's industry.
The data collection and site-specific targeting program are important components of OSHA's efforts to become a data-driven, results-oriented organization. They allow the agency to track the progress of individual employers after an agency intervention and measure the impact of OSHA's programs, as required by the Government Performance and Results Act.
OSHA's injury/illness records are also used by many in the private sector with an interest in workplace safety and health. Employers use the information to manage their workplace safety and health programs. The injury/illness records provide a database that can be analyzed to discover patterns in an individual workplace or an entire company. After an employer has taken corrective measures, the records can be used as a management tool to track progress in reducing the number of injuries and illnesses.
Workers also need data to participate effectively in safety and health efforts at their workplace. An injury/illness summary must be posted on a bulletin board each year to inform employees about the number of injuries and illnesses experienced in their workplaceB -- access guaranteed by OSHA's recordkeeping rule. Furthermore, OSHA's current recordkeeping rule assures access to the injury/illness log by employees and their representatives. Employees who receive information on workplace injuries and illnesses will be more aware of hazards in their work environment, will be more likely to follow safe work practices, and will be more likely to report workplace hazards.
Purpose of the Proposal
The proposed changes to the recordkeeping rule represent the most comprehensive overhaul of the system since 1971. The proposed revision has two major goals: to improve the quality of records kept by employers and to reduce the burden on employers by simplifying forms and regulations and providing clear guidance.
OSHA has developed the proposal and draft final rule through an inclusive process involving consultation with representatives from business, labor, academia, and government. The process began in 1987, when, at DOL's request, the Keystone center, an independent, non-profit organization that facilitates national policy consensus-building dialogues, convened forty-six representatives for a year-long dialogue. Participants were asked for their views on the operation of the current system and ways to improve it. In 1989, the Keystone Center issued a final report on the dialogue that included twenty-three recommendations for improving OSHA's recordkeeping requirements.
In 1995, OSHA held two stakeholder meetings on recordkeeping, facilitated by Keystone, to discuss a draft proposal for revising the regulation. Fifty representatives of business, labor, academia and government discussed a draft proposal and provided OSHA with ideas and recommendations for improvement. After this meeting OSHA made more than seventy changes to the draft proposal. A second meeting several months later included fifty-eight stakeholders, who were briefed on the changes. This group suggested additional alterations and recommended that OSHA publish the proposal for public comment.
OSHA actively sought public participation after publication of the proposal. The agency decided to hold public meetings in March and April 1996, during which fifty-five groups representing a broad spectrum of those interested in the rule provided OSHA with their views on the proposal. Many of the stakeholders considered the process used in developing the recordkeeping proposal to be a model and encouraged OSHA to develop other proposals in the same way.
OSHA received more than 450 comments on its proposal in addition to the information gathered at two public meetings. The range of organizations submitting comments included trade associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers, professional groups such as the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, and labor organizations such as the AFL-CIO. Individual businesses were well-represented, with comments from larger firms such as Exxon, Proctor and Gamble, and Tenneco, as well as smaller businesses such as the Heat Transfer Equipment Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Rosco Manufacturing Company in Madison, South Dakota. Organizations which represented small businesses, such as the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association and the National Federation of Independent Business, also commented. In addition, input was received from a variety of individuals in safety and health-related fields: safety professionals, occupational physicians, industrial hygienists, and safety and health consultants.
Mr. Chairman, you and others have expressed concern that OSHA did not convene a panel under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA) for this regulation. As you know, under section 244 of SBREFA, small business panels are convened before a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is issued, to enable the agency to consider the views of small businesses at the pre-proposal stage. Because the proposed recordkeeping rule was published before the effective date of section 244, OSHA was not required to convene a panel. The rulemaking process I have described, however, provided ample opportunity for input from the small business sector. During the comment period following publication OSHA entered 450 written comments and transcripts from six days of public meetings into the rulemaking docket. The docket includes submissions by many small businesses, trade associations representing small businesses, and the Office of Advocacy of the Small Business Administration. The process followed by OSHA during development of the proposal and afterward demonstrates the agency's commitment to obtain input from small business employers as well as other stakeholders.
Almost all who participated in the rulemaking agreed that OSHA should revise the recordkeeping rule. We have now thoroughly analyzed the comments received and know a great deal more about what is needed to streamline and improve OSHA's recordkeeping requirements. The final rule will address concerns raised during meetings with the public and the comment period and will include a number of the ideas suggested by the public. We recognize that this rule encompasses a number of privacy issues, particularly with regard to the need to provide legitimate access to workplace illness/injury information while protecting sensitive individual worker data. We will carefully consider these issues in developing the final rule. OSHA has made preliminary decisions about the provisions in the final regulation and those decisions are under review within the Department of Labor. When that review is completed the regulation will be sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review. Before the final rule takes effect OSHA will provide employers with the time necessary to become familiar with new requirements and to change computer programs and other systems used to compile injury/illness records.
Records of occupational injuries and illnesses are essential for OSHA's efforts to protect America's workers. The new recordkeeping rule will improve data collection while making reporting easier for employers. OSHA expects the revision to result in a simplified system, improved information, increased utility of the records, and better use of modern technology. The recordkeeping changes are a step in the right direction, a "win-win" proposition for employers, for workers and for OSHA.