Since Jan. 1, 2015, employers have been required to report any severe work-related injury – defined as a hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye – within 24 hours. The requirement that an employer report a workplace fatality within eight hours remains in force. In the first year of the new requirement, employers notified OSHA of more than 10,000 severe work-related injuries, creating the opportunity for the agency to work with employers to eliminate hazards and protect other workers.
“Year One of OSHA’s Severe Injury Reporting Program: An Impact Evaluation” found that in the first full year of the program, employers reported 10,388 severe injuries, including 7,636 hospitalizations and 2,644 amputations. In a majority of those cases, OSHA responded by working with the employer to identify and eliminate hazards, rather than conducting a worksite inspection.
“In case after case, the prompt reporting of worker injuries has created opportunities for us to work with employers we wouldn’t have had contact with otherwise,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels, who authored the report. “The result is safer workplaces for thousands of workers.”
OSHA found some employers exceeded the agency’s requirements to protect workers from future incidents. Unfortunately, a few responded with what the agency calls “callous disregard.” In one case, an employer tried to hide an entire room full of machinery from OSHA inspectors.
The evaluation of 2015 results, which breaks out the top 25 reporting industries, notes that by instituting the requirement, the agency can better target resources where needed, and engage employers in high-hazard industries to identify and eliminate hazards. The evaluation finds the reporting requirement is meeting both goals.
“We are confident that the events triggered by these reports have eliminated the potential for many more thousands of injuries in U.S. workplaces,” wrote Michaels in the report.
“OSHA will continue to evaluate the program and make changes to improve its effectiveness,” Michaels wrote in the report. “We are also seeking new ways to make sure that small employers know about their reporting obligations and the resources available to them.”
Documented Cases and Positive Changes
Working with OSHA, many employers have found ways to eliminate hazards and protect other workers from the same injuries. Nothing illustrates this more powerfully than actual cases, said Michaels; workers injured in incidents that OSHA learned about because of the new reporting program, such as:
- In Chicago, a conveyor loaded with liquid chocolate suddenly started up as a worker was cleaning a roller. Her arm was pulled in and mangled so badly that its repair required a plate and skin grafting. To prevent future injuries, the employer installed metal guards to shield workers’ arms and hands from moving machinery as well as warning alarms and flashing lights that are activated 20 seconds before the conveyor moves.
- In Idaho, a valve cover snapped shut on the hand of a truck driver who was loading creamer into a tanker, severing his fingertip. Drivers had long known the valve was problematic. After the amputation, the employer devised a new hands-free tool for closing the valve, and alerted the manufacturer and other employers likely to use the same equipment.
- At a wastewater treatment facility in Illinois, a worker was overcome with heat exhaustion and hospitalized. The employer immediately instituted more frequent employee breaks with water provided, and within weeks had installed cooling fans and submitted plans for a new ventilation system to control worker exposure to excessive heat.
- When a mechanized blender at a meat processing plant in Missouri suddenly started up, it caused the amputation of both lower arms of a sanitation worker who was cleaning the machine. The employer immediately re-engineered the blender’s computer control system and changed safety interlocks, and enhanced worker training and supervision, significantly reducing the risk of amputation. Thankfully, the worker’s arms were later surgically reattached and he is undergoing rehabilitation.
“What we have seen over and over again is that the prompt reporting of worker injuries has created opportunities for employers to work with OSHA specialists to keep similar incidents – or worse – from happening again,” Michaels wrote.