Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

Many employers will soon have an extra incentive to keep their workplaces safe: the threat of public scrutiny.

A new Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requires certain employers to submit injury and illness data to OSHA electronically, and that data will be made public online.

The rule also expands anti-retaliation protections for employees who report injuries and illnesses.

“I believe this will save the limbs, lungs and lives of thousands of workers,” says OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels. “It will have a positive impact on safety without OSHA having to issue citations.”

OSHA isn’t asking employers to collect any more information than before, he notes.

Prior to this rule, certain employers were required to keep these logs and records, but didn’t have to submit them to OSHA unless requested, notes Edwin Foulke Jr., a partner in the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP and a former assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

Now establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must submit that information electronically each year. It includes information from the Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300), the Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300A), and the Injury and Illness Incident Report (OSHA Form 301).

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The new rule also covers those establishments with 20 to 249 employees classified in 67 high-hazard industries, says Foulke. These establishments would only have to electronically submit their 300A summaries.

Firms with fewer than 20 employees and other establishments in another 80-plus traditionally low-hazard industries will be required to submit only upon request, he adds.

All told, about 466,000 work sites will be subject to the electronic recordkeeping requirements, which will be phased in over two years beginning Jan. 1.

Foulke said he questions whether OSHA has the legal authority to publish this data.

OSHA maintains it does. In the past, the agency has sent requests to 80,000 establishments in high-hazard industries and some of that information was already on its website, Michaels says. OSHA will provide a secure website for the submission of information, he says.

It’s expected OSHA will publish the establishment name and the reportable data after it has been redacted to protect against disclosure of employee identity, says John Ho, a former OSHA prosecutor now with the Garden City law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King.

The anti-retaliation provisions take effect in August, Ho says.

These provisions clarify the existing implicit requirement that an employer’s procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses be reasonable and not deter or discourage employees from reporting, he notes. For instance, it’s not considered reasonable if employers have a requirement that mandates an employee report an injury immediately.

Toni Hokanson, director of training for Farmingdale-based C2G Environmental Consultants LLC, an environmental consulting and contracting firm, says she’s not concerned, noting, “We’re not a company that would ever retaliate against our employees for reporting an injury.”

She also doesn’t anticipate electronic reporting to be overly time consuming as some fear.

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Charles Hunt, chief operating officer of Massapequa Park-based Able Safety Consulting LLC, which provides OSHA compliance assistance, encourages employers to read the rule themselves because “it’s open for interpretation.” He also suggests they review their training and safety programs.

Angelo Garcia, III, principal industrial hygienist at Syosset-based Future Environment Designs, an indoor air quality and industrial hygiene consulting firm that provides OSHA compliance training, thinks the rule will result in an uptick in companies seeking training services.

“I think it will definitely spur more interest in training initiatives,” he notes.