Rules are made to be broken, so they say. But when OSHA issued its electronic reporting final rule a couple of years ago, confusion and fear of the exposure of sensitive data to the general public fueled chaos among members of the trades. Multiple rulings since have muddied the waters, but a new final ruling was issued by OSHA in January 2019 that limits electronic reporting requirements to OSHA Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) alone.
Original Requirements Risked Sensitive Medical and Company Data
In August 2016, OSHA released the original version of the electronic reporting rule. It required that any OSHA-covered work sites with 250 or more workers, as well as sites in industries with at least 20 workers from industries considered to be high hazard, submit their Form 300A, Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) and Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) electronically.
On the surface, this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. However, because these are government documents that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), anything that was reported on these forms could easily end up in the hands of someone who had more than occupational safety on their mind. Cross-referencing individual injuries between the three forms could make it easy to identify an individual, which was not in the spirit of the ruling.
Quite the opposite, actually. Many of the other big issues that employers had with the electronic reporting ruling revolved around the “anti-retaliation protections,” engineered to prevent workers from being discouraged from reporting injuries or illnesses. Because frequent injuries may trigger an OSHA inspection, employers had every reason to want to minimize their required reporting, even if it ultimately made working conditions even more dangerous.
Part of these protections also included language that limited the window within which an employee could be drug-tested, tying the hands of an employer with a chronic offender. They also put a serious limit on safety-incentive programs because they’ve been shown to deter injury reporting, as well.
The New Ruling: Winners and Losers
Under the new ruling, which only requires the electronic filing of Form 300A (300 and 301 are still required to be maintained in-house), there are some winners and some losers. The winners include anyone who didn’t want to submit those forms electronically, along with those who were concerned that OSHA posting their data on its website was a step in the wrong direction.
The losers would be those occupational health experts who hoped to study the logs to try to find ways to make more jobs safer, those employees who need those safer workplaces, and anyone invoking the anti-retaliation protections in the original ruling.
For electricians who run a small crew of under 20 warm bodies, nothing is really changing. You’re still going to be required to file your paperwork like always, as it best suits your organization. The difference is that no matter how big or small your operation, you only have to submit the Form 300A electronically once a year.
Get Caught Up or Be Penalized!
If you’ve been putting off filing your Form 300A in hopes that something would officially be settled, like over a third of the establishments that were required to file during December 2017, you may be issued an other-than-serious citation for failing to comply with the regulation that was in place at the time. There’s also a risk that this will trigger a recordkeeping audit.
If that wasn’t enough, watch out for random OSHA inspections. As of October 2018, failing to electronically submit Form 300A meant that your name went into the hat for random OSHA inspections.