OSHA Changes to Enhance Worker Safety

A worker at construction, OSHA changesIn an effort to enhance safety in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made numerous changes that will affect penalties and deadlines, record keeping and reporting, program management guidelines and hazard reduction standards. According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were nearly 3 million employer-reported workplace illnesses and injuries throughout the private sector in 2014. More than half of these incidents resulted in lost time from work, work restrictions or job transfers. OSHA reports that 4,821 workers lost their lives due to on the job injuries that same year. That number averages out to 13 work-related deaths each day.

Over the past four decades, OSHA regulations have dramatically improved safety in the workplace, significantly reducing the number of work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Since 1972, workplace injuries and illnesses have gone from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers to just 3.3 occurrences per 100 in 2014. Additionally, the number of on the job fatalities has decreased from an average of 38 deaths per day in 1970 to 13 per day by 2014. The changes currently being implemented are designed to improve these numbers even more.

 

OSHA Changes to Be Aware Of

While OSHA has made a multitude of changes for 2016, the top five that employers, employees and Illinois workers comp attorneys should be aware of include:

  • Penalties: Under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, OSHA is required to increase civil penalties for violations for the first time in about 25 years. Initially, a significant “catch-up” penalty increase will occur in 2016. After that, annual increases that are based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will take effect. This change means that the maximum fine for a serious or other-than-serious violation could increase from $7,000 to $12,000, and violations that are deemed willful or repeat could soar from $70,000 to $125,000. Final penalty amounts will be determined during a rule making process that is to be completed by August of 2016.
  • Silica Rule: OSHA recently issued a final rule to protect U.S. workers from occupational exposure to respirable crystalline silica. The new regulations are expected to reduce the occurrences of lung cancer, silicosis, kidney disease and COPD that are caused from workplace exposure to silica. According to OSHA, an estimated 2.3 million American workers are exposed to crystalline silica. Of these, approximately 2 million are workers in construction fields experience exposure while drilling, crushing, cutting or grinding materials like concrete and stone that contain crystalline silica. The remaining 300,000 workers experience exposure in general industry operations like brick manufacturing and hydraulic fracturing. The new rule is expected to save more than 600 lives and prevent an estimated 900 cases of silicosis annually.
  • Record Keeping and Reporting: OSHA has implemented new record keeping and reporting regulations that will improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses to enhance the identification and prevention of occupational hazards. Under the rule, employers with more than 250 workers per establishment are required to submit OSHA 300 logs electronically every quarter. Employers that have 20 or more workers at any time throughout the year are now required to electronically submit OSHA 300A annually. Information from these forms will be posted on the OSHA website and made accessible to the public. In addition to providing potential employees and current workers with information about the safety of a company, OSHA believes that publicizing these facts will shame employers and encourage them to provide safer work environments.
  • Safety Incentives: Certain types of safety incentive programs are no longer in compliance with OSHA and their existence could result in employers being subject to citations. While most safety incentive programs are designed to encourage workers to avoid hazards and injuries, many are accompanied by characteristics that discourage employees from accurately reporting such incidents. Safety programs that call attention to workers who report an injury or illness, discipline employees who seek medical care for work-related injuries or illnesses, disqualify individuals from promotion or participation due to the reporting of hazardous incidents, and those that require that injured workers attend additional safety training are just a few examples of safety incentives that are not allowed.
  • Program Management Guidelines: Updated guidelines are designed to better reflect modern technology and practices. The new guidelines focus on identifying and reducing or eliminating occupational hazards to prevent injuries and illnesses from occurring. Extensive information is provided to assist employers with developing effective workplace safety management programs. Although these guidelines are completely voluntary, it is recommended that employers become familiar with the information. In many cases, OSHA requires that these guidelines are used to develop adequate safety programs as a portion of a settlement of violation citations.

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