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DOL report criticizes OSHA data gathering practices

At least half of the severe injuries suffered each year by workers in Texas and around the country are not reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to a report released on Sept. 13 by the Department of Labor. The DOL's Office of Inspector General concludes in the report that changes made to OSHA's record-keeping rules, which were implemented in January 2015, have done little to address the issue.

The OIG audit report criticizes OSHA for not doing enough to gather information about work-related illnesses and injuries and questions the number of citations handed out to employers that do not take the filing requirements seriously. The OIG says that OSHA could improve workplace safety significantly by training employers to detect and prevent underreporting as the information currently being gathered is not sufficient to effectively guide the agency's enforcement practices.

The OIG came to these conclusions after reviewing information about 18,805 serious workplace injuries and 3,642 job-related deaths. In a letter written in response to the report, the acting head of OSHA said that the onus to report this kind of data should be placed on employers and not government agencies. She also pointed out that OSHA often does not learn about reporting violations until after the six-month statute of limitations for issuing citations has expired.

Employers with sloppy record-keeping practices sometimes take a similarly lax approach to enforcing federal and state workplace safety regulations. When workers are harmed in accidents that could have been prevented by proper safety protocols, attorneys with experience in this area could suggest pursuing a personal injury lawsuit instead of a workers' compensation claim. While workers' compensation programs were put into place partly to prevent this kind of litigation, exceptions are in some cases made when employers have acted with recklessness so severe that fatalities or severe injuries became inevitable.

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