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OSHA Investigating Unreported Work Injuries

Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are concerned that companies are failing to report work injuries and work accidents. According to OSHA, injured employees are routinely instructed to report to work even if they are too ill or injured to perform their duties.

As a result of this practice, some employers do not to report accidents, injuries or absences from work. Meanwhile, the employees do not complain because they receive full pay for not working rather than the reduced wages they would receive from workers' compensation. The workers' medical bills are often also covered.

Why would employers engage in this practice? OSHA reports that employers have many incentives for this behavior. Some companies want to keep their workers' compensation insurance rates low. Further, high rates of injury can increase the likelihood and frequency of OSHA inspections. Also, many companies tie the number of injuries to bonuses received by management. Finally, many clients will not do business with a company that has higher-than-average injury rates.

Last year, OSHA launched a program to investigate the accuracy of injury and illness records for companies nationwide, including manufacturing and courier service industries. Currently, OSHA has inspected 185 companies and aims to examine 350 by the end of the two-year project. OSHA officials are interviewing random employees about any injuries or illness they have experienced and checking to see if they were recorded. Officials are also looking for incentives offered by employers that reward working without injuries. These types of incentives usually pressure workers to not report an injury.

An OSHA investigation at Houston's Goodman Manufacturing Co. revealed that the company had failed to document the nature and/or duration of 72 percent of employee illnesses and injuries over a two-year period. The company is facing $1.2 million in penalties.

OSHA has plans to conduct a pilot record-keeping program at construction companies due to the major role that lost-time construction injuries can play in contract award decisions. David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor, states "When companies report injuries honestly, they're at a competitive disadvantage. We want to level the playing field."

Source: The Houston Chronicle "Working: OSHA tries to uncover hidden injuries" 9/22/10

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