Last week, OSHA issued a final rule regarding the reporting of workplace hazards. Many employers are already required to keep records of injuries and illnesses. At this time though, little of this information about individual employers is made public. Under the new rule, employers in high-hazard industries that are already collecting data will send it to OSHA for posting on OSHA’s website. OSHA states that the availability of this data will enable employees to choose workplaces where injury risk is lowest, and employers that wish to hire the best workers will make prevention a priority.
Under the rule, employers with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses regulation must electronically submit information. Employers with 20-249 employees in certain industries must electronically submit more-limited information as well.
New requirements take effect August 10, 2016, with submissions to OSHA beginning in 2017. The obligations to complete and retain injury and illness records under the recordkeeping regulation remain unchanged.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over three million workers suffer a workplace injury or illness annually. Assistant Secretary Michaels states, “Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace. Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the DOL announced a few days ago that whistleblowers will now be able to file complaints related to violations of the 22 laws that come under OSHA’s purview through an on-line form. The report can be made at www.osha.gov/whistleblower/WBComplaint.html.
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels stated, “Whistleblower laws protect not only workers, but also the public at large and now workers will have an additional avenue available to file a complaint with OSHA.”
Workers can still make complaints in writing or by calling OSHA or one of its regional or area offices.
The Tennessee legislature recently passed a statute that states that an individual does not commit a criminal act when the individual transports or stores a firearm or ammunition in the person’s privately-owned vehicle when the individual has a handgun carry permit recognized in Tennessee. This statute, which goes into effect on July 1, provides for storage in the vehicle in any public or private parking area provided the gun or ammunition is kept from observation, or is locked in a trunk, glove box, or container if the person is not in the vehicle. Many Tennessee employers have been reviewing weapons policies in advance of the law.
The Tennessee Attorney General released an opinion on May 28 that finds that this statute does not alter or impact the employer-employee relationship. In other words, employers can still prohibit handguns on their property by employees. As the opinion notes, employers have long had the ability to prohibit or restrict lawful activity through employment policies. While the opinion does not have the authority of a court decision, the reasoning should be considered by employers who are reviewing their policies.
While the groundhog told us winter would be over by now, we have had some unexpected cold and snowy weather this week. Even though we are moving to warmer weather, it is still good to consider whether you should have an inclement weather policy. During winter months, those policies can help define how your business will approach bad weather or travel conditions and will assist your employees in planning work time. While such a policy can remove some discretion from those managing the office, the clarity provided is often appreciated. There are several considerations for these policies:
- When will the office be closed? Is it tied to a local school decision, certain weather conditions, or other bases?
- Who will communicate to the employees and how will it be done? Will and electronic message or call go out? Will there be a recorded message at a phone number? Will you have a contact chain?
- Who will make the call about closing the business? Do you limit that discretion?
- What does the policy say about those who elect not to come to work even if the office is open?
- What will you do about compensation?
- Do you have multiple locations? If so, will the decision be different in the different locations?
- What consideration do you make for parking lots, sidewalks, and other conditions outside of street conditions?
- Do your employees travel as a part of their duties?
- Will there be any customers or clients that need to be served?
- How have these issues been handled historically?
As with most policies, cookie cutter language does not fit every business. Looking at your particular situation, your location, your workforce, and your type of business will all inform how you structure the policy.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor operates education centers (OSHA Training Institute Education Centers) throughout the country. The program has been in place for 20 years and provides outreach, training, and monitoring, working with 40,000 participants last fiscal year. The program covers construction, general industry, disaster site, and maritime issues, focusing on training courses for safety and health hazards.
The DOL has renewed 24 existing sites and added 4 new sites after a national competition. The new sites include Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee. The press release is available by clicking here.
OSHA is continuing to work with the National Safety Council, a nonprofit public service organization, to promote workplace safety, giving emphasis to fall prevention at construction sites.
According to Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels, “Falls cause more fatalities than any other hazard in the construction industry.” So OSHA has entered into a new two-year agreement to identify best practices including developing fact sheets on the benefits of injury and illness prevention programs that identify workplace hazards.
Safety has become an increasingly important issue for business. Many employers are experiencing fewer workplace injuries than at former times, and some openly market their safety record. There is significant guidance for many situations including many industry-specific rules. OSHA employers must also follow OSHA’s general duty clause. This clause states that the employer must make the workplace “free of recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Not only can this rule be cited along with industry-specific rules, it also applies when there is no specific rule in place. But for a violation, a feasible and useful way to correct the danger must exist.