It may be safer and more economical to address workplace near misses and injuries as soon as they occur by accurately
reporting all incidents.
By Sue McCraven
Hoping his supervisor wouldn’t see his painful efforts to stand up straight, John hobbled to the break room after injuring his back while tying rebar cages. John knew he should report his injury, but he hesitated. It didn’t help that his supervisor was a tough taskmaster who often touted the precast plant’s excellent safety record. In just six weeks, staff would be celebrating one year of no lost-day injuries with a company picnic at a local park. Also influencing his final decision, John’s co-workers covertly assisted him in toughing out the rest of the afternoon in production. He called in sick the next day, taking pain medication and resting at home.
What forces kept John from reporting his back injury as mandated by OSHA 3001 recording procedures, and how can this typical scenario lead to increased management costs?
Disincentives to report injuries are many
The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that workplace injuries and illnesses are significantly underreported in construction industries.2 Unfortunately, there are many forces that may discourage workers and employers alike from reporting work-related injuries, including:
1. Lack of safety enforcement from top management
2. Management fear of increased workers’ compensation insurance premiums
3. Poorly designed and implemented safety-incentive programs, including prizes, for no lost-time injuries, and safety competitions with other production facilities that pressure workers to maintain “perfect” safety records for their plant or department
4. Inaccurate employer perception of workers’ compensation and related costs (costs of replacing an injured worker, lost production time)
5. Worker fear of reprisal from a supervisor (fear of job loss or disciplinary action) or from co-workers (pressure to maintain the status quo)
6. Employer pressure on health practitioners to provide insufficient medical treatment that effectively negates the need to record an incident
7. Illegal worker status (the death rate among Hispanic workers is almost 40% higher than that of other workers in the construction industry, yet recorded work-related injuries for Hispanic workers is much lower)
8. Plant’s flawless safety record that takes precedence over recording near-misses and work-related injuries, creating complacency among both workers and supervisors (supervisors are no longer aware of risky situations as they occur, and are unable to identify safety problem areas to address and prevent poor work habits)
9. Company absenteeism plans that punish or even dismiss workers because of lost-day injuries or illnesses
10. Workers’ lack of awareness of the company workers’ compensation program and associated benefits and services for work-related injuries
“When workers know that help is available to them immediately after an injury,” says Mike Ladd, CNA Risk Control consulting director, “this eases their anxiety, and they are more likely to work with management and the insurance provider to work out the best plan for recovery.”
Underreporting: safety programs aren’t working
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that smaller construction companies (under 50 employees) are underreporting injuries, particularly lost-workday incidents. Underreporting of work-related injury and illness is a serious problem, because when incidents are not reported, management has an inaccurate picture of the company-wide safety program’s effectiveness. This means the safety program is not responsive to actual work conditions and that existing problems are not being identified and addressed.
Also, if OSHA collects erroneous data, the manufacturing and construction industries will use skewed information as the basis of safety programs. Without accurate data, safety programs are not as effective in identifying risky situations and preventing worker injury and death.
Hiding problems: real cost to management
In addition to the value of accurate statistics to effective safety programs, how can the scenario of John’s unreported back injury end up costing the precast company more money? Let’s assume that in addition to not reporting his injured back, John does not receive adequate medical attention and his condition worsens. Eventually, he herniates a disc on the job and an ambulance takes him to the hospital. Out of fear of losing his job and under pressure from creditors, he contacts an injury attorney. Now management is looking at workers’ compensation, attorney involvement that may lead to more time lost, additional medical tests, increased claim costs and the loss of a valuable employee for several months after surgery. Other management costs include increased record keeping, lost production and training time for a temporary replacement worker while John recuperates.
Early coordination with insurance carrier saves money
As soon as management learns of a work-related injury or illness, the insurance claim handler can provide valuable assistance by working with the physician in determining the diagnosis and proper medical treatment. “When the injured worker and family are contacted as soon as possible by concerned management and the claim handler,” says Ladd, “there is a greater probability that the worker will receive adequate medical care at an approved health care facility and will work directly with his employer on a post-injury plan that will enable the worker to return more quickly to his job.” (Watch for Ladd’s upcoming article, “Injury Cost Containment,” in the July-August 2012 issue of Precast Inc. magazine).
Reasons to report all near-misses and injuries
1. It’s the law. If a facility has 11 or more employees, OSHA CFR 1904.2 (a) mandates keeping accurate OSHA 300 injury and illness records (including all medical treatment beyond first aid; restricted work activity; job transfer; lost days; and loss of consciousness and death). Any company found to keep erroneous OSHA 300 records (underreporting, falsification of data) is subject to monetary fines from the regional OSHA.
2. Accurate OSHA 300 records improve identification of workplace hazards. Only factual data can lead to safety problems being addressed as they occur, thereby ensuring valid safety program improvement and effectiveness.
3. It’s a moral obligation. Doing everything possible to prevent human injury and suffering is an ethical responsibility for both workers and management.
4. A rapid response by management and its insurance carrier can reduce injury management costs. By allaying the injured worker’s fears of losing his or her job, the worker is more likely to cooperate with the company and insurance carrier on a plan that will return the employee to work as quickly as possible and prevent potential legal hurdles.
5. Management must have an accurate record of all near misses, accidents and injuries to maintain an effective safety program. “One of the worst drawbacks in the OSHA 300 reporting arena,” says Ladd, “is that when management has inaccurate data on near misses and work-related injuries, it is going to have an ineffective safety program that will, in the long run, incur greater potential injury-management costs.”
Here’s a test on OSHA 300 reporting that you can use during your regularly scheduled safety or staff meeting. All are true-false statements, and the answers are listed below.
1. Cases listed on OSHA 300 logs do not mean that a worker was at fault or that an OSHA standard was violated.
2. OSHA Form 300A, the yearly summary of work-related injuries and illnesses, must be posted for employee viewing.
3. Medical treatment does not include first aid such as: temporary immobilization devices; hot or cold treatments; eye patches; bandages; and cleaning, flushing and soaking wounds on the surface of the skin.
4. Underreporting injuries is a serious problem, because it conceals an ineffective safety program, which can incur greater risk and
5. Lack of commitment to safety by top management may be the greatest cause of underreporting of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Sue McCraven, NPCA technical consultant and Precast Solutions editor, is a civil and environmental engineer.
1 The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for protecting the safety and health of the nation’s workers. OSHA Act of 1970 requires the DOL to collect all work-related injury and illness data. OSHA 29 CFR 1904 requires each organization to maintain (minimum of five years) a log of injuries/illnesses (Form 300) and to post a summary report (Form 300 A) every year. By law, manufacturing industries with 11 or more employees must record and report work-related injuries.