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Commentary—OSHA proposal makes more paperwork, less safety

Imagine this as the next “bold initiative” in the Administration’s War on Crime: an executive order requiring all police departments to record and report to Washington each and every instance of jay-walking within their jurisdictions!

Outlandish? Certainly. But that hasn’t kept the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from pursuing the same nit-picking, pencil-pushing approach to combating work-related injury and illness.

The story begins four years ago when OSHA announced it was going to revise its laborious record-keeping requirements. Two noble goals drove this initiative: (1) to make sure the agency collected accurate information on workplace injuries and illnesses so it could develop more effective countermeasures; and (2) to improve out-dated record-keeping requirements and eliminate unnecessary paperwork requirements.

Yet, after laboring mightily at this task for four long years, OSHA has instead proposed cumbersome regulations that threaten to choke small businesses with more paperwork at even higher costs.

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“OSHA seems to want employers to record every rash or blemish an employee may have at some time during the work day, every muscle strain or twinge , even if these ailments resulted from weekend gardening or softball,” small business owner Eamonn McGeady told the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections earlier this month. “These proposed rules do not reflect the reality of the workplace.”

‘Lost Its Way’

The president of Martin G. Imbach, Inc., a family-owned and operated marine construction company in Baltimore, and a member of NFIB’s Board of Directors, McGeady worries that OSHA “lost its way, badly” during its four-year odyssey in rule-making. Instead of streamlining record-keeping requirements, he says, the agency has proposed new criteria that will force employers to record more data than ever before.

Further, the agency’s new insistence that employers document even the most trivial signs, symptoms or complaints of physical problems may well overwhelm the agency with data that will obscure rather than reveal truly important information that could help the agency track and prevent serious workplace health and safety problems.

“OSHA’s clear mandate from Congress is to track and try to prevent serious injuries and illnesses in the workplace. How sunburn or poison ivy rash , both recordable under this proposed rule-making , meet that criteria, I do not understand,” McGeady says.

Fewer Resources For Safety

The more time and resources OSHA requires business owners to devote to documenting cases of poison ivy and sunburn, the less time and fewer resources will be available for training workers to prevent serious accidents and illnesses. Indeed, the proposed rule even includes some direct disincentives for employer-sponsored prevention efforts.

McGeady notes that he, like many other employers, now offers his workers flu and pneumonia shots. Under the proposal, those shots would be classified as “recordable injuries,” and more pencils would have to be pushed.

Happily, OSHA has not yet finalized its rule. Having recently deferred its publication deadline until the end of the year, the agency still has a few more months to come to its senses and get the rule back on the path toward streamlined regulation and efficient data collection.

Just as the crime czar must focus on problems far more serious than jay-walking, so OSHA needs focus in helping employers prevent serious workplace injuries and illness. Forcing them to document every instance of “redness and swelling” misses that mark by a mile.

Faris is president of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the nation’s largest small business advocacy group.

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