When you know about a dangerous or deadly situation where you work, you may fear getting fired for reporting it more than you fear the workplace hazard. Under new OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) rules, your employer will be subject to new requirements when submitting reports of accidents and injury.
What happens under the new rules
As of January 1st, 2017, certain employers must submit their normal data plus electronic data which will be posted publicly. As you might imagine, this public data sharing is intended to shed transparency on how many people are injured or killed in specific working establishments. It's also designed to inspire employers to be on top of their safety programs.
Affected industries must submit injury and accident data four months earlier than previously required. This new rule relies on prompt public exposure to inform people as early as possible about working conditions that are sub-par. The public has a right to know about unsafe conditions that lead to the loss of jobs, limbs, and loved ones.
At smaller businesses and those not covered by the new regulations, the government can request data any time it wishes. Employers at these companies will only need to submit workplace data if they receive a written notification to do so.
Which companies are impacted
Most industries that employ 250 workers or more already routinely send workplace incident data to OSHA staff. These firms will need to do so electronically as well under the new rules.
In industrial environments known to be unsafe that employ 20 to 249 workers, the same rules apply. These companies must electronically file the same information as the larger companies.
E-filing does not eliminate the need for your employer to maintain and file their standard work-related injury and illness records.
How this protects workers from post-injury retaliation
Your employer must notify you of your rights to be protected from retaliation for reporting a workplace injury or illness. The establishment will most likely hang a poster to inform you of the illegality of terminating, harassing, or threatening you for sharing information about a hazardous working condition. This poster should include the contact information for OSHA staff in your region.
Employers can't use the threat of post-accident or post-injury drug testing to bully you out of reporting a problem or seeking medical attention. The new rules do not specifically address drug testing, but they have been interpreted to protect workers from retaliatory drug testing unless there's a valid reason to demand such results.
Employers may still request drug testing to comply with state workers compensation rules if you're filing a claim. Otherwise, employers must first show a reason why they suspect drug abuse contributed to accidents or injuries before demanding drug tests from reporting workers.
Why it's important for you to get involved
If you're responsible for keeping OSHA-compliant records for your employer, do so with integrity to the very best of your abilities. You are helping make every workplace safer. The same goes for workers who promptly and properly report incidents of workplace illness, accident, and injury.
Because of you, neglectful and dangerous employers will be forced to clean up their acts, and potential employees will gravitate toward safer jobs or demand higher pay and work site cleanup before they sign up to perform unsafe jobs.
Another benefit of reporting data is that victims of accidents and injuries will receive help when employers are found to be at fault. You and your fellow workers have a greater likelihood of being awarded sufficient survivors' compensation if your employer is known to have a non-compliant workplace.
For more information about the new OSHA rules for reporting workplace hazards, talk to an attorney like Speers Reuland & Cibulskis, P.C.