The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recently drawn the attention, and ire, of business owners across multiple industries after announcing a slew of new accident reporting regulations. Whether they have already been implemented or are awaiting approval, the new regulations will place a greater burden on businesses that do not have the proper technology in place. Despite the hassle they may cause, these regulations are merely the essential rules required for maintaining a safe, healthy workplace. It is the businesses that go above and beyond this reporting that will see real results not just from fewer accidents but from increased productivity as well.
"More in-depth and complex workplace inspections will become common."
As reported in the National Law Review, one major change in the way OSHA conducts and records workplace inspections has already happened. Under the new "Enforcement Weighting System" effective Oct. 1, workplace safety inspections that go more in-depth and are more complex take priority over routine, general inspections. OSHA inspectors will now be awarded "Enforcement Units" for each inspection, with more units being given for more detailed or time-consuming inspections. OSHA hopes this will lead to more inspectors taking on tougher assignments. According to Nicole Winnette, an attorney at Jackson Lewis P.C., this new regulation will have real and noticeable effects for employers of all kinds.
"Starting October 1, 2015, they can expect to see an increase in the number of complex inspections performed by OSHA," Winnette said. "With a greater focus on these complex safety and health inspections, now is the time to review your policies and procedures to ensure that they meet all OSHA requirements."
Meanwhile, a batch of new reporting regulations looms on the horizon. According to Business Insurance, a revision to OSHA's workplace injury reporting requirements will take effect Jan. 1, 2016. The new rules stipulate that employers report the hospitalization of any single employee, instead of three or more employees as previous required. Along with a new requirement to report loss of fingertips as amputations (and do so within 24 hours), this has the potential to dramatically increase the need for reporting. In fact, Business Insurance reported that OSHA has already become "swamped" with calls and as many as 250 additional injury reports per week.
On the horizon
Perhaps the most impactful OSHA rule likely to see enforcement in coming months is currently in its final stages of review by the White House's Office of Management and Budget. Dubbed the "Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses" rule, it would require employers with more than 250 employees to electronically submit reports on workplace injuries and illnesses every three months. This information would then be made available to the public online, with the goal of helping expose systematic safety violators to a greater degree of scrutiny.
With these new reporting requirements, OSHA is raising the standard for workplace safety, much to the detriment of employers who are unprepared. Employers of all kinds are legally obligated to perform the required safety reporting at the minimum. But with the possibility of OSHA instituting electronic report submissions in the near future, companies that embrace innovative construction safety products will likely experience a smooth transition in this area.
In addition to seamless reporting, construction safety products also allow managers to be proactive, and not just reactive, when it comes to safety. Mobile apps allow supervisors to instantly document and archive examples of safety concerns or violations. This data can then be extracted and compiled in whatever way they see fit. With the ability to collect and access an almost unlimited amount of workplace safety statistics, it's not outside the realm of possibility that managers could spot potential problems before they present a real threat to workers.
"The proposal to more effectively track workplace safety should serve as a wake-up call."
How much is too much?
Some industry spokespeople have expressed concerns regarding these new regulations, particularly as they relate to privacy and data management. In an interview with Safety and Health Magazine, a representative of the American Industrial Hygiene Association questioned the additional man hours that would need to be diverted to this additional reporting. While OSHA has stated that the new rules don't change anything for industries already required to submit such reporting, they do concede that larger organizations may need to devote "multiple hours" per quarter.
As far as privacy, OSHA has pledged to take seriously the handling of employee's personal details, although business owners are skeptical of their ability to do so. According to Safety and Health, stakeholders in the new rule's review process have raised concerns that even careful omission of sensitive worker data may not be enough to maintain their privacy, particularly in small communities or niche industries.
All in all, the proposal to more effectively track workplace injuries and illnesses should serve as a wake-up call to companies in any industry, and especially in construction. According to recent data from Gartner Research, even the largest construction companies spend the least out of any other industry on information technology. The potential to rise above the pack is now more attainable than ever. Regardless of its approval, OSHA has made clear the need for more effective collection and management of workplace safety data. Companies that can effectively collect and interpret this potentially vast pile of information will not only work safer, but smarter.