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OSHA wants large farms to report online

DANIEL LOOKER 02/03/2014 @ 12:51pm Business Editor

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released a proposed regulation that would require employers to submit their records of accidents and injuries electronically, with the goal of making part of that information public on a website.

The rule doesn’t require more paperwork, but OSHA wants to speed up its enforcement of safety regulations by having businesses submit reports electronically. Large businesses with 250 or more employees would submit reports quarterly.

Smaller employers with 20 or more employees from more accident-prone industries would be required to submit records annually. OSHA’s threshold for smaller employers focuses on more dangerous occupations, those with at least two serious injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time employees in a 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey. That category for annual reports includes “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.”

OSHA, its unannounced inspections, and its potential fines are feared by some employers. Yet, compared to many federal agencies, OSHA is tiny.

David Michaels, Labor Department assistant secretary for occupational safety and health, told reporters when the new rule was announced that OSHA has 2,400 inspectors for the nation’s 8 million workplaces and that it would take a century to visit all of them.

If employers submit their reports electronically, OSHA will be able to target those that have higher injury rates.

It would also allow employers to compare their own track record with peers, he said.

“Currently, employers can’t benchmark their performance against others in their industry,” Michaels said.

To Rich Gassman, safety director at Amana Farms in Iowa, an annual electronic filing doesn’t sound too burdensome.

“It probably won’t affect us a whole lot,” says Gassman. The farm has 25 full-time employees for its 25,000-acre operation that produces corn, soybeans, cattle, and timber.

Gassman says he’s interested in being able to benchmark with other farms, and that kind of information is difficult to find.

“Trying to set our benchmarks by what the safety record should be, it’s fairly tough to find,” says Gassman.

OSHA can inspect only farms with 10 or more employees. The 20-employee cutoff for the reports probably represents less than 10% of the farms in his state, Gassman says.

In his press conference, Michaels wouldn’t say when information from the reports would be on a public website.

The Labor Department will be taking public comments and holding hearings on the proposal.

The final rule will say when information from reports would be online. OSHA is proposing to identify each employer. The names of the injured employees would not be public.

With the Obama administration still working on making its health care website more useful, it was inevitable that a reporter would ask Michaels about the efficiency of OSHA’s planned website.

Michaels said the agency will be seeking comments on how it should develop the website. OSHA estimates the added cost for smaller employers to transmit records at $9 annually.

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