OSHA is charged with setting and enforcing workplace safety standards, so it’s no surprise that the agency comes under some fire whenever it makes significant changes to its regulations. While workplace safety is, and should be, a priority for businesses, not everyone agrees on what the best ways to secure it are.

OSHA’s rule regarding the electronic tracking of workplace-related injuries and illnesses has brought out this tension between the regulatory agency and the stakeholders overseen by it.

Drug Testing and Incentive Programs

Some members of the construction industry take exception to the rule's potential to restrict or prohibit the design of safety incentive programs or the use of post-incident drug testing (find out whether Your Incentives Are Compromising Safety Culture).

At the heart of their complaint is frustration over how vaguely defined the rules appear to be, including a lack of clear and definitive procedures and guidelines.

Ultimately, these issues stem from differing views about the effectiveness of such initiatives. While many companies have carefully designed their safety incentive and drug testing programs to reduce the risk to workers, OSHA's primary worry is that these programs will discourage employees from reporting near misses, accidents, and injuries (learn more about Near Misses: What They Are and Why You Should Report Them).

Protecting Employees from Retaliation

In keeping with their concern about under-reporting, OSHA’s rule includes requirements for employer reporting processes. First, reporting processes are not to be designed in such a way that they deter employees from reporting incidents. OSHA took the rule a bit further by stressing that, second, employees should be notified of the fact that they can report incidents without fear of retaliation.

These inclusions support OSHA’s overall goal of improving injury and illness tracking. With regard to this, David Michaels, OSHA Assistant Secretary, noted in a press release that “Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace.” These provisions, in other words, are in place to encourage employers to take steps to prevent occupational injuries and earn a reputation for well-managed and safe workplaces.

It is important to note that these provisions may not affect every employer. Those who already had these types of programs in place are likely to be able to keep them. The goal is simply to ensure that companies have a consistent program that does not, whether intentionally or not, lead to retaliation for reporting illnesses or injuries.

Guidelines for Electronic Reporting

OSHA's enhanced requirements for electronic reporting will allow it to analyze data and better enforce and assist with compliance. In an effort to improve transparency, however, some of this information will be made publicly available on OSHA's website, depending on the industry and size of the company.

The electronic reporting itself has been received without much controversy. The process of sharing the information is meant to be fluid, easy to comply with, and involve no additional work. Information can be entered manually, via CSV file upload, or using software designed specifically for this purpose (find out about the Benefits of Expedited EHS Reporting).

The same cannot be said, however, about the decision to publicize safety data. Some voices in the construction industry are skeptical that making this information available will have a noticeable impact on workplace safety. In fact, if the data presented on the OSHA website is limited, partial, or incomplete, it might misrepresent the actual level of safety in certain companies and unduly tarnish them.

While it's still unclear what this transparency will look like in practice, Kevin Cannon, the Senior Director of Safety and Health Services for AGC, states that his agency will continue educating its members on all aspects of the new process. He urges other companies to carefully evaluate their reporting systems and make sure their programs are compliant, but also cautions that employers need to remain focused on genuinely improving workplace safety, not just improving the numbers.