Regulation Watch: OSHA Reporting Requirements to Affect Glass Companies

Matt Johnson
February 27, 2017
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : LEGAL

New regulations: New OSHA requirements for electronic reporting of workplace injuries and illness rules went into effect Jan. 1.

Affected companies: The reporting requirements apply to all companies with 250 or more employees, or companies with 20 or more employees in industries that are classified with high rates of occupational injury or illness, including construction and manufacturing.

Fabricating glass and glazing systems involves encountering the potential for injury. Despite best efforts to exercise safe practices and provide appropriate safety equipment, injuries do occur. As of Jan. 1, 2017, those injuries are also potentially recordable events under new, federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration electronic reporting guidelines. And while these rules are subject to change, a quick overview of these requirements is due.

In 2016, after a three-year rulemaking process, OSHA revealed its requirements for electronic reporting of workplace injuries and illness. The final rule requires certain employers to submit information regarding workplace events through an electronic dashboard whereby OSHA, and others, can track and monitor this information. After reporting, and removing any personally identifiable information of the employees, OSHA will post “establishment-specific” information on its website.

The reporting requirements apply to all companies with 250 or more employees. They also apply to companies with 20 or more employees in industries that are classified with high rates of occupational injury or illness. Both construction and manufacturing are included within this higher risk category, making these changes relevant to glaziers, glass fabricators and others in the industry.

Employers impacted by the rules will need to submit the applicable variant of the OSHA 300 form by July 1, 2017, although that deadline is currently set to be extended to March 2, 2019. These submission requirements are in addition to existing obligations regarding recording workplace injury and illness records. Moreover, where states have their own workplace safety programs—OHSA state plans—those states must adopt requirements that are substantially identical to the federal OSHA rules.

The new OSHA rules also mandate that employers ensure employees can report injuries or illness themselves, without retaliation. Employers must have a procedure for reporting work-related injuries that does not discourage employees from reporting and does not require unreasonable effort to report. Information regarding the right to report must be conveyed to every employee, and the rule prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who have reported an incident or illness.

OSHA identifies two primary purposes for this new process. First, reporting is supposed to encourage employers to prevent injuries in competitive response to publicly reported incident rates. Second, reporting will create a data set that researchers can examine to study employment risks. Very generally, these are positive goals. Pausing for a moment, however, can lead one to question whether the data generated by this process could also prove problematic.

A broad potential use of what is being developed by this data reporting is a comparison tool. Companies will be able to evaluate their overall incident and injury rates when compared to others within similar industries and geographic regions. Practically speaking, this should motivate companies to continue, or pursue, safe work practices and provide a comparative justification for additional efforts or costs related to safety. A more cynical perspective suggests that the ability to compare and contrast incident rates could be used by lawyers or agency representatives to present hard data that questions a company’s commitment to safety.

Whether, or if, this data is admissible in a court or administrative proceeding is unsettled, and would most likely depend on why it was being offered. Even so, a company facing a workplace claim may now have to defend its reported, public safety record as well. Worker’s compensation systems can often protect employers from direct litigated employee claims, but are not absolute shields throughout the country, and have limited impact against potential third-party claims.

This is all developing, and the nature of use of this data will continue to evolve. And while the potential of misuse exists, the best risk-management response remains to focus on a continuing commitment to safe work practices. Ensuring enforcement of policies that require employees to use appropriate practices and protective equipment is essential. So, too, are steps to meet these additional reporting obligations of federal or state-based OSHA requirements.

This new reporting requirement means owners should also keep a watchful eye on the data being reported and published about their company. Demand corrections where and if appropriate. Owners should monitor their company, and those companies in their region and industry, to track trends and stay current with safety protections. While the potential for misuse of this information exists, so too do opportunities to maximize its value.

The author is a member of The Gary Law Group a Portland-based firm specializing in legal and risk issues facing manufacturers of glazing products. Write him at matt@prgarylaw.com.