Workplace Safety and Health:

Enhancing OSHA's Records Audit Process Could Improve the Accuracy of Worker Injury and Illness Data

GAO-10-10: Published: Oct 15, 2009. Publicly Released: Nov 16, 2009.

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Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Department of Labor's (DOL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for protecting the safety and health of the nation's workers. The act requires DOL to collect and compile work-related injury and illness data. GAO was asked to determine (1) whether DOL verifies that employers are accurately recording workers' injuries and illnesses and, if so, the adequacy of these efforts, and (2) what factors may affect the accuracy of employers' injury and illness records. GAO analyzed OSHA's audits of employers' injury and illness records, interviewed inspectors who conducted the audits, surveyed occupational safety and health practitioners, and obtained the views of various stakeholders regarding factors that may affect the accuracy of the data.

DOL verifies some of the workplace injury and illness data it collects from employers through OSHA's audits of employers' records, but these efforts may not be adequate. OSHA overlooks information from workers about injuries and illnesses because it does not routinely interview them as part of its records audits. OSHA annually audits the records of a representative sample of about 250 of the approximately 130,000 worksites in the high hazard industries it surveys to verify the accuracy of the data on injuries and illnesses recorded by employers. However, OSHA does not always require inspectors to interview workers about injuries and illnesses--the only source of data not provided by employers--which could assist them in evaluating the accuracy of the records. In addition, some OSHA inspectors reported they rarely learn about injuries and illnesses from workers since the records audits are conducted about 2 years after incidents are recorded. Moreover, many workers are no longer employed at the worksite and therefore cannot be interviewed. OSHA also does not review the accuracy of injury and illness records for worksites in eight high hazard industries because it has not updated the industry codes used to identify these industries since 2002. OSHA officials told GAO they have not updated the industry codes because it would require a regulatory change that is not currently an agency priority. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also collects data on work-related injuries and illnesses recorded by employers through its annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), but it does not verify the accuracy of the data. Although BLS is not required to verify the accuracy of the SOII data, it has recognized several limitations in the data, such as its limited scope, and has taken or is planning several actions to improve the quality and completeness of the SOII. According to stakeholders interviewed and the occupational health practitioners GAO surveyed, many factors affect the accuracy of employers' injury and illness data, including disincentives that may discourage workers from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses to their employers and disincentives that may discourage employers from recording them. For example, workers may not report a work-related injury or illness because they fear job loss or other disciplinary action, or fear jeopardizing rewards based on having low injury and illness rates. In addition, employers may not record injuries or illnesses because they are afraid of increasing their workers' compensation costs or jeopardizing their chances of winning contract bids for new work. Disincentives for reporting and recording injuries and illnesses can result in pressure on occupational health practitioners from employers or workers to provide insufficient medical treatment that avoids the need to record the injury or illness. From its survey of U.S. health practitioners, GAO found that over a third of them had been subjected to such pressure. In addition, stakeholders and the survey results indicated that other factors may affect the accuracy of employers' injury and illness data, including a lack of understanding of OSHA's recordkeeping requirements by individuals responsible for recording injuries and illnesses.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve OSHA's efforts to verify the accuracy of employer-provided injury and illness data, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for OSHA to require inspectors to interview workers during the records audits to obtain information on injuries or illnesses and substitute other workers when those initially selected for interviews are not available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: OSHA reported that during the one-year suspension of the record keeping audit program, it will officially revise its audit procedures to address this issue. OSHA Directive CPL 02-00-138, "Audit and Verification Program of Occupational Injury and Illness Records," establishes the program and the procedures used to conduct data verification audits. OSHA will develop and implement a revised Directive during FY10 that will require worker interviews beginning with the audit cycle for the CY09 injury and illness data. The agency suspended the record keeping audits program for FY10 (auditing of CY08 data) to initiate a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on Record keeping that will identify and correct record keeping inaccuracies among employers included in the OSHA Data Initiative. OSHA noted that NEP, which was implemented in October 2009, involves extensive interviews of employees and company officials. In FY12, OSHA reported that its Recordkeeping Audit Program was discontinued and replaced by the Injury and Illness Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program (10-07 CPL 02), which requires employee interviews (Section XIII.E.6). However, although the NEP requires inspectors to interview workers during records audits, it does not require inspectors to substitute other workers when those initially selected for interviews are not available. In 2013, OSHA reported that OSHA's Field Operations Manual (FOM) instructs inspectors on how to conduct inspections. The agency reviews employer injury and illness records at each inspection; and employee interviews are conducted at all inspections. During the interviews, inspectors inquire about a variety of issues including hazards and recordkeeping. Typically, the employees are not identified in advance and are selected at random. However, on occasion the inspector may interview an employee identified on the injury and illness log to ask more specific questions.

    Recommendation: To improve OSHA's efforts to verify the accuracy of employer-provided injury and illness data, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for OSHA to minimize the amount of time between the date injuries and illnesses are recorded by employers and the date they are audited by OSHA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA reported that during the one-year suspension of the record keeping audit program, it will initiate a review of its record keeping audit program to identify opportunities to minimize the amount of time between the date injuries and illnesses are recorded by employers and the date they are audited by OSHA. OSHA will develop policies and implement necessary changes to its program and procedures to conduct records audit inspections in a timely fashion, beginning with the audit cycle for the CY09 injury and illness data. OSHA will shorten the lag time between collecting data and conducting the audit inspections by collecting a subset of the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) data in February 2010 to be used for the audits, and initiating the remainder of the data collection in May 2010. Once the data are collected for these designated establishments, the audit inspections will be assigned to the OSHA field offices (potentially decreasing the lag time by 10 months). The agency suspended the record keeping audits program for FY10 (auditing of CY08 data) and implemented a National Emphasis Program (NEP) in 2010 that will identify and correct record keeping inaccuracies among employers included in the ODI. OSHA noted that NEP reviews more current employer records. Injury and Illness Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program (10-07 CPL 02)). In FY12, OSHA reported that NEP requires review of at least two years of data including the year subsequent to the year of data submission, and it provides flexibility to expand the review to the current year's data.

    Recommendation: To improve OSHA's efforts to verify the accuracy of employer-provided injury and illness data, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for OSHA to update the list of high hazard industries used to select worksites for records audits and target inspections, outreach, and technical assistance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2010, OSHA agreed that was is necessary to pursue rulemaking at the earliest possible date to update the industry coverage of the record keeping rule from the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) coding system to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). This will allow the agency to use current Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to redefine the scope of the record keeping requirements, of the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) and of the record keeping audits to include existing and emerging high-risk industries. OSHA believes it will also enhance its ability to target inspections, outreach activities, and technical assistance to high hazard workplaces. OSHA will conduct an expedited, streamlined rulemaking to update the list of industries in Part 1904 Subpart B, Appendix A. The agency will include this rulemaking, and the date by which it expects to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), in the Regulatory Agenda published in Spring 2010. In FY12, OSHA reported that it announced in the Regulatory Agenda its intent to update the industry exemption list in 29 CFR Part 1904. Publication of the NPRM occurred on June 22, 2011. Modification of the scope of the recordkeeping rule, they believe, will allow for modification of the scope of the OSHA Data Initiative (ODI) as this is the underlying data used for targeting enforcement and outreach efforts. OSHA is in the final rule stage of modifying the industry coverage of the recordkeeping rule (RIN 1218-AC50). OSHA expects to publish the final rule by the end of calendar year 2013. GAO will close this recommendation when this becomes final.

    Recommendation: To improve the accuracy of the data recorded by employers on workers' injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for OSHA to increase education and training provided to employers to help them determine which injuries and illnesses should be recorded under the recordkeeping standards, such as providing assistance to employers via the online tool that OSHA is considering.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA reported that it is taking action to supplement its current efforts to improve the accuracy of data recorded by employers on workers' injuries and illnesses. First, the agency will develop and, by the end of FY10, make publicly available a web-based tool to help employers meet the requirements of OSHA's record keeping regulations. This optional tool will also help employees and their representatives in checking the accuracy of employer logs. It is designed to increase the accuracy and ease of the record keeping of work-related injuries and illnesses. Second, OSHA Training Institute Education Centers plan to conduct more than 50 record keeping rule seminars for employers in FY10 that will provide training on what employers need to record and how to record it properly. In addition, OSHA will provide additional webinars, guidance documents, outreach information and other compliance assistance resources to its inspectors, employers and others to increase awareness of record keeping requirements and issues related to under-recording. In FY12, OSHA reported that it developed and posted on its website two electronic tools intended to aid employers in complying with the injury and illness recordkeeping requirements: a training module and a Recordkeeping Advisor. In addition, a 2009 Susan Harwood Training Grant was awarded to the Hispanic Contractors Association de San Antonio, Inc. to deliver OSHA recordkeeping training to construction companies and workers within the state of Texas in English and Spanish (grant materials are accessible on its web site).

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