ORC HSE Comments to OSHA on Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses
ORCHSE Strategies, LLC (ORC HSE) welcomes this opportunity to comment on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) July 30, 2018 Federal Register notice seeking comments on its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.
ORC HSE (formerly known as ORC Worldwide and more recently as Mercer HSE Networks) is an international occupational safety, health, and environmental consulting firm that has for more than 45 years specialized in providing a wide array of services to American businesses. Currently, more than 110 large (mostly Fortune 500) companies in diverse industries are members one or more of ORC HSE’s Occupational Safety and Health networks. The focus of these groups is to promote effective occupational safety and health programs and practices in business, to facilitate constructive communications between business and government agencies responsible for establishing national occupational safety and health policy, and to advocate responsible business positions to regulators. The activities of ORC HSE’s Occupational Safety and Health networks are based on the premise that providing safe and healthful working conditions is of mutual importance to employers, employees and government agencies.
It should be noted that companies that are members of ORC HSE’s Occupational Safety and Health networks may have provided substantial information, opinion, and advice to ORC HSE in the development of its comments. However, the following comments are solely those of ORC HSE and may differ from the views and comments of individual member companies.
I. General Comments
As with the original proposed regulation in November of 2013, ORC HSE congratulates OSHA for recognizing and trying to fix a longstanding problem that has impeded Agency performance for decades; getting better data to effectively deploy its scarce resources to the sites and processes where they are needed the most.
However, even though we supported the Agency’s need for better data, regrettably we did not support the 2013 proposal to collect and publish site-specific data. We felt then, and feel now that although well-intentioned, the rule would make a bad situation even worse.
Consequently, we support the Agency’s pulling back from collecting OSHA logs (OSHA Form 300) and OSHA Incident Reports (OSHA Form 301) from sites with 250 or more employees. We feel that OSHA had not fully addressed data quality issues and will not be able to control the unintended consequences of the original 2013 initiative.
As before, our reservations are not limited to the potential privacy issues associated with collecting OSHA logs and incident reports, although they are significant. They include concerns over the inability of the Agency to insure the quality of the data and the unintended consequence of diverting Agency and company resources away from the most significant risks and from more important safety and health efforts.
Our comments include concerns with the current collection of data from the Annual Summary of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, (OSHA Form 300A) because they are germane to this rulemaking and OSHA’s intended use of the Annual Summary data that the Agency will continue to collect.
Given OSHA’s expressed purpose of eliminating the dual reporting burden with OSHA and BLS, we also support the Agency’s collection of EIN numbers. However, we have reservations (discussed later) about the lack of any real commitment by BLS to collaborate with OSHA in using this information.
These comments provide recommendations for alternative approaches that we believe will get OSHA and the safety and health community better data to drive and assess safety and health programs. Furthermore, we offer potential solutions to problems that have plagued the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting system for years, such as potential wide-scale under-reporting in certain sectors.
II. Specific Concerns with OSHA’s Data Collection
A. We agree with OSHA’s expressed concerns in this rulemaking that there are risks to employee privacy with the collection of OSHA Logs and OSHA Incident Reports for sites with 250 or more employees.
Currently, several groups are pursuing legal action to gain the release of the site-specific information the Agency has already collected (discussed later in these comments). These actions pose a significant threat to the confidentiality of the data.
In addition, requiring employers to submit volumes of detailed case data to OSHA is likely to result in some private information inadvertently being made public, and may increase the impact and consequence of potential mistakes.
Protecting legitimate employee privacy interests is critically important. Consequently, the current recordkeeping regulations require that employers take steps to protect the privacy of injured or ill workers, especially for “privacy concern” cases.
Our experience has been that with privacy concern issues member companies have been very thorough in screening the records to redact employee identifiers and other confidential information. However, under past requirements, if a mistake was made the impact was mostly limited to the individual accessing the log or the site where the records are kept and posted.
Currently, OSHA’s data collection requires submission of case detail for over one million cases. Employers may inadvertently miss a step and fail to redact a confidential piece of information from one of the OSHA forms. Given the Agency’s scarce resource, the chances are high that these mistakes will not be caught by OSHA prior to release, given the Agency’s scarce resources. As a result, the data could end up being released to the public at large. Any inadvertent relese of private information would compromise employee privacy interests and open employers up to additional liability, further complicating the recordkeeping and reporting process.
B. In the original proposal to collect site-specific data OSHA did not adequately explain in specific terms how the proposed data collection will be used, or the benefit(s) that will be derived. The lack of clarity continues in this present rule.
OSHA has dealt with these data for nearly five decades, and collected and used site-specific injury and illness data in the OSHA Data initiative (ODI) since 1997. Yet, other than general statements to the effect that obtaining more data will make things better, there is still nothing in the record to describe OSHA’s experience in using this information or why it chooses it over other forms of data.
OSHA should share its learnings from years of collecting site-specific injury and illness data, including the benefits and drawbacks. As part of this analysis, the Agency should also clearly identify its data needs and explain how those needs can best be addressed, with the goal of identifying the most efficient and effective approaches possible.
Furthermore, OSHA should provide details on how it uses the data it already has on hand. Does the Agency make maximum use of detailed injury and illness data already collected by BLS? Does it use the data it collects and compile from the inspections it conducts, or the audits conducted under its voluntary programs? Has the Agency harnessed the data available from the many NIOSH programs? Is it leveraging data from workers compensation systems and other sources? Does OSHA combine data from multiple sources to develop a fuller picture?
In short, given the broad tapestry of safety and health data from existing sources, before collecting huge amounts of additional data, OSHA should be able to demonstrate that:
1. It is fully utilizing data already available from existing sources;
2. Significant gaps exist in the available data that limit the Agency’s ability to fulfill its mission;
3. The proposed expanded reporting will fill those gaps; and
Finally, given the size and scope of the ongoing data collection, the Agency should be able to make the case that having these new data will result in significant improvements. For example, if the main benefit is to improve inspection targeting, the benefit may be proportionately limited since OSHA only targets a relatively small proportion of its inspections.
None of these issues are addressed with clarity in the existing record.
Nor is there any reference to a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, entitled “A Smarter National Surveillance System for Occupational Safety and Health in the 21st Century”, which was released earlier this year. The report provides detailed recommendations pertaining to injury and illness surveillance that outline data needs, address data quality issues, and call for better coordination among OSHA, NIOSH, BLS, State Agencies and others.
It appears that OSHA’s posture in this rulemaking, regrettably, is to look backward and reinstate past practices (without complete analysis and explanation) instead of looking forward and positioning the Agency to better deal with the evolving challenges of the 21st century.
C. The questionable quality of the source data undermines its utility for OSHA’s intended purposes.
OSHA’s plan to not collect OSHA Logs and OSHA Incident Reports is grounded in the fact that annual summaries will still be collected from large sites, and sites in industries OSHA deems high-hazard. To be effective, that ongoing data collection and use must be viewed as being fair, and to be fair every site must be on a level playing field.
No matter how modern or sophisticated the collection methodology, the utility of every data system is dependent on the quality of the source data it collects. Despite the efforts of many employers to keep good records, a growing body of evidence points to wide variation in reporting practices among different industries, companies, business units, and sites.
The OSHA data system has been in place for decades and remains largely unchanged from when it was first implemented, soon after passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. The general criteria for determining the cases that must be recorded are provided in sections 8 (c)(2) and 24 (a) of the OSH Act. More-specific criteria have been provided over the years in different iterations of the recordkeeping regulations, 29 CFR Part 1904, and in recordkeeping guidelines and numerous interpretations provided first by BLS and then by OSHA.
With years of continuing guidance from the government, it is understandable why some believe that most employers are recording cases in a consistent manner. However, evidence from a variety of sources points in the other direction.
The truth is that, while many have beliefs about the quality (or lack thereof) of the OSHA data no one really knows. Despite well-known problems of under-reporting that have surfaced over the years, the OSHA data have not been validated for decades.
The limited studies that have been conducted have all pointed to a potential under-reporting problem.
1. In the late 1980s BLS conducted a study of the system in two states, Massachusetts and Missouri, and found that the rate for cases involving lost workdays, arguably one of the most reliable statistics in the system, was under-reported by 25%.2
2. Since then several other studies have produced a similar result – all indicating some degree of undercount. A 2006 study estimated that the BLS survey missed up to 68% of injuries and illnesses in Michigan between 1999 and 2001.3
3. Another study found that the rate of injuries in Illinois from 1995 – 2003 was actually constant; not the 37.4 percent decline reported by BLS.4
4. The same authors found that 83 percent of the reported decline in injuries and illnesses from 1993 to 2002 was attributable to changes in OSHA recordkeeping criteria.5
5. That work was followed by a 2008 study that indicated that the BLS survey only captured 76 percent of all injuries in the six states studied.6
6. Yet another study found that the actual number of workplace injuries and illnesses for 1998 was 40 percent higher than reported by the BLS survey.7
7. The cumulative effect of these and other findings seemed to pique public interest and concern. So, in 2008 Congressional hearings were held on the topic that culminated in a report: Hidden Tragedy: Underreporting of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses8. The report stressed the importance of accurate records, catalogued the different study findings that consistently found under-reporting, and called on OSHA and BLS to further assess the issue and develop needed solutions. And in June of that year, the issue of under-reporting was featured in a Bill Moyers PBS Special entitled: 20,000 Cuts.
In 2009, OSHA began a Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program that reviewed recordkeeping practices and audited records at select sites to assess their accuracy. Citations were issued when problems were found. However, scientifically reliable conclusions about the quality of the data could not be drawn from that experience since OSHA’s site selection was not designed to provide statistically reliable findings.
Several years ago, OSHA responded to the problem by discouraging the inappropriate use of OSHA rates in company recognition and reward systems, one of the perceived sources of under-reporting; the fear being that some employers use them to discourage reporting and keep cases off the OSHA Log. More recently OSHA promulgated a rule to discourage employer retaliation against employees for reporting their injuries and illnesses.
The issue of incentive programs also surfaced in a study conducted by one of our member companies after one of its sites received a citation for not recording cases that technically were recordable. The company found that the accuracy of the OSHA records was impacted by both employee reporting practices and employer recording practices, and that there were at least 20 different sources of bias that could impact whether or not a case ever got entered on the OSHA log.
Employee reporting of discretionary cases (those that can be hidden) is often made on the basis of consequences to the injured/ill employee, and is influenced by factors such as:
a. Likelihood of discipline
b. Supervisory behavior
c. The employee’s relationship with the supervisor
d. Incident investigation practices
e. Gain-sharing plans with recordable rate as one of the metrics
f. Company recognition programs
g. Benefit plan designs
h. Response of initial treatment provider
i. Employee relationship with company doctor
j. Accessibility of medical provider
k. Perceived costs – worker’s compensation vs. company non- occupational coverage
l. Job content or schedule
Variables affecting employer recordkeeping practices include:
1. Knowledge of the rules by employees, the record keeper, supervisors, and key operations staff
2. Understanding complicated (and sometimes seemingly stupid) nuances
3. Information flow within the company
4. Dealing with pressure on the metric
5. Ability to check the thoroughness and accuracy of information provided by the employee
6. Company physician vs. personal medical care
Our collective staff experience (based on decades of servicing over 110 large corporations in 30 different industry sectors) confirms the thrust of the findings referenced above. Despite many companies’ best efforts, the variation in reporting practices remains a nagging problem that can (and often does) distort the data. Constant training and vigilance are needed to maintain data accuracy and reliability.
We believe that OSHA data have value for general surveillance at the aggregate level. They provide insights into the overall magnitude of the problem, are useful for tracking general trends, and in some cases, for identifying select emerging issues. BLS sampling and survey reliability is generally well managed in terms of statistical reliability (survey confidence levels). However, our experience has been that quality and verification problems with the OSHA data intensify the more the data are disaggregated. In many instances they are:
Based on criteria that are not intuitive, and even at this late date, not well understood by many involved in the recordkeeping and reporting process, including physicians, staff keeping the records, employees, supervisors, and the operations leaders to whom they report; and
Not very accurate. The more pressure put on them through various factors, the less accurate they become. Data quality can vary by industry, company, business unit and site.
Compounding the problem, the Agency is underfunded in several key areas, including the collection, verification, and use of data, and lacks the resources to enforce the requirements.
The most recent insight into OSHA’s enforcement challenges can be gleaned from a report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued on September 13th, that examines how OSHA implemented its revised requirements for reporting fatalities and serious injuries, arguably the most serious cases that would be the hardest to hide. The OIG study looked at serious injury reporting between January 2015 and April 2017, and included the following findings:
1. OSHA took (reasonable) steps to implement the new rule.
2. The Agency conducted 10,475 inspections in response to employer-reported incidents; employers conducted 14,834 inspections.
3. At least 50% of severe injuries were unreported (One reason was that employers seemed to perceive the cost of not reporting to be low.)
4. OSHA was inconsistent in its practice for detecting and preventing under-reporting.
5. OSHA citations for not reporting were inconsistent and low, ranging from $1000 – $5,000.
6. OSHA did not provide evidence to supporting decisions for not issuing citations.
7. OSHA had no way to confirm that employers abated the hazards that caused the serious cases.
8. OSHA did not perform required inspections for 906 cases deemed “Category 1;” the most serious cases involving either a fatality or the inpatient hospitalization of two or more employees.
Regrettably, resources are not the only problem. OSHA lost a significant court case that further limits its ability to enforce the recordkeeping requirements. In Volks Constructors v. Secretary of Labor, 675 F.3d 752 (D.C. Cir. 2012), the court found that the six-month statute of limitations in the OSH Act applies to recordkeeping violations. That finding made it difficult, if not impossible, for OSHA to issue large citations to employers for large numbers of misclassified or under-reported cases over an extended period of time. OSHA responded by promulgating a rule to address the finding in Volks. But the rule was overturned by an action under the Congressional Review Act that, when signed by the President, not only nullified the rule, but serves to prevent another similar rule from ever being launched.
This realization that the OSHA data are inherently flawed, and that the Agency has limited ability to improve or enforce the requirements, led ORC HSE several years ago to encourage our members to shift to using more leading indicators to drive and assess their safety and health programs. More recently we have recommended that, in addition to the OSHA requirements, they begin using a new ASTM Global Standard developed by ORC HSE as a global outcome metric that focuses on more-serious cases10. It is safe to say that ORC HSE members were instrumental in the development of that standard.
ORC HSE has every reason to believe that the release/publication of Annual Summary data for individual sites will increase the likelihood that some employers will under-report.
Given the fact that OSHA lacks the resources to maintain a sustained data verification effort, there could be serious adverse consequences. Without more effective and sustained verification efforts, it would be inappropriate to use the newly-collected data on a site-by-site basis to target inspections or to facilitate public comparisons.
To be clear, we view “gaming the numbers” as a cancer that undermines effective safety and health culture and negates the otherwise positive impact of safety and health management systems. It sends the wrong signals to workers, supervisors and others throughout the organization and detracts from safety and health prevention efforts by shifting the emphasis from managing hazards to managing the numbers. That is why our member companies work as hard as they do to insure accurate and consistent recording.
D. Despite OSHA efforts to keep the data confidential, the data collected by OSHA are likely to be made public.
Given the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); the precedent in the NY Times case that required OSHA to provide access to site specific data collected under its previous collection regime; and the Finkel case (which was cited in the rule), it is highly likely that OSHA will be required to disclose the site-specific Annual Summary (OSHA Form 300A) data that OSHA intends to continue collecting. Employees cannot be expected to police the data for many of the worst sites that report low OSHA injury and illness rates; nor should OSHA expect that employers feeling pressure from having their OSHA data made public will always take the high road in responding.
History has shown that, when under pressure, some employers manage their rates by manipulating the system. This can create a perverse anomaly in the data that could find OSHA more likely to target employers who are trying to record and report accurately, and less likely to target employers who succumb to the perceived pressure to under report.
And as we have stated, it seems clear that OSHA does not have the resources to effectively audit the records on an ongoing basis.
Finally, we are concerned about the “churn” that this is likely to cause and the time and effort that will likely be diverted from more productive safety efforts. Some companies will be “up in arms” over the perceived lack of fairness as they see companies and sites with less-effective programs celebrated for having lower rates. Others, responding to pressure from business leaders to keep their rates low, will spend more and more time debating whether or not borderline cases need to be recorded on the OSHA log.
These are clearly unintended consequences and will negatively impact the profession where resources are constantly stretched thin.
E. The proposed architecture of the ongoing OSHA data collection is inefficient and not well-aligned with OSHA’s real data needs and uses.
Once OSHA’s data needs have been identified, the data collection scope and method should reflect the most efficient means possible for meeting them.
According to the text of the proposal, the main purpose for the continued data collection is to improve targeting of OSHA resources. Since the focus is often on identifying individual sites and processes for intervention, targeting usually requires a census collection for the different sub-populations that are the focus of the targeting effort. Usually these sub-populations are identified on the basis of risk, or on the basis of potential deviation from safety and health compliance.
OSHA’s proposal to collect site specific injury and illness data from all sites with 250 or more employees seems to reflect neither of these important practical considerations. The approach is not effective for targeting, since sites are determined to be “in-scope” merely on the basis of their size, not their perceived risk or possible lack of compliance.
III. OSHA Collection of Employer Identification Numbers (EIN)
In this rulemaking OSHA asks questions about collecting IRS Employer Identification Numbers (EIN). Specifically, OSHA asks if there are any privacy concern issues associated with EINS, such as whether employers consider EINs to be confidential business information or Personally Identifiable Information exempt from disclosure.
The rationale is that these IRS tax numbers can be used to identify sites that provide injury and illness data to both BLS and OSHA, and eliminate the double reporting burden.
We strongly support this initiative and have pointed out the double reporting issue in several of our prior rulemaking comments.
Our concern with the proposal for EIN collection in the NPRM is that there is no reference to any commitment by BLS to actually do the match and eliminate the double reporting. Initiatives like this usually require additional resources, and given the current climate in Washington, that might be doubtful.
Employers should not be required to provide additional data unless there is relative certainty that the data can and will be used for its intended purpose.
IV: Recommendations: OSHA should:
A. Take significant steps to assess and improve the quality of the source data.
Opportunity: A series of studies conducted over the years indicates that the BLS/OSHA data suffer from inconsistent recording and varying degrees of inaccuracy. There are likely to be several contributing causes including, inadequate knowledge of the rules, a series of biases that impact recordkeeping decisions, and lack of any real threat of accountability (made more difficult with the Volks decision.)11
Many would agree that, given the current reporting vagaries, the data do not sufficiently meet current needs for administering federal and state programs or for general prevention. Some would argue that the impact of the current requirements is in part perverse, due to the time and effort that is wasted arguing over determinations of recordability.
Varying degrees of accuracy do not render the data unusable. When used in the aggregate they still have value for some purposes, like tracking overall trends and identifying select emerging conditions. However, until the quality issue is fully understood and addressed, the data have questionable value for site-specific comparisons.
So nearly five decades after the implementation of the OSH Act the country lacks accurate and verifiable occupational safety and health data of the most basic nature – for traumatic work-related injuries. Our knowledge of occupational illness is far worse.
Solution: The OSHA recordkeeping requirements and statistical system are out of date. A constructive dialogue is needed among stakeholders in business, labor and government to identify the true source(s) of the problem and chart a reasonable path forward. Involving a wide range of stakeholders in the process is needed to ensure buy-in, since it is becoming increasingly clear that OSHA is not resourced to force wide-scale compliance over the long term.
Our experience has been that employers will generally provide data if they: a. understand what is being asked of them; b. think the requirements are fair; and c. feel they are getting some value in return for their efforts. The OSHA data system seems to fail on all three counts.
ORC HSE continues to propose a three-step solution for improving the quality of the data:
1. Remove the few “lightning rod” interpretations that provide the Agency with little additional data, but undermine Agency credibility and consistently inflame the regulated community. For example, an employee throwing out her back at work as a result of sneezing due to a common cold unrelated to work.
2. Develop useful software to assist users in making accurate recordkeeping decisions. The current OSHA software does little more than summarize the text in the regulations. What is needed is software that employers can use to correctly answer their “what if” questions.
OSHA should be aware of the new ASTM Global Standard developed by ORC HSE member companies, that highlights more-serious cases and is designed to promote consistency and comparability in reporting and recording injuries and illnesses on a worldwide basis. OSHA might want to consider the principles that underpin these new data, as well as to identify select leading indicators that could drive key elements of a safety and health management system.
B. Develop an interim plan to maximize the use of existing data (other than the DART rate) to target and address the most serious hazards, while refining a long-term plan to fill key data gaps and needs.
Opportunity: OSHA’s mandate is incredibly important; in some cases worker lives literally hang in the balance of OSHA action or inaction. Since the Agency has a much broader mandate than it is resourced to handle, ORC HSE realizes that better data are needed now to focus scarce resources on companies, sites, and processes where they will do the most good.
OSHA currently directs inspections towards sites based on employee complaints, referrals, and past OSHA rates. Inspections are also focused through national and local emphasis programs. OSHA voluntary programs are available for the asking and do not differentiate among those requesting services based on need or the degree of the hazard(s) that they are trying to manage. And while the proposed data collection would get the Agency more data, we do not think it would do much to help the Agency focus efforts on where they are needed the most.
Solution: For a portion of its inspections OSHA should consider setting targeting priorities based on relative risk – the degree of the hazard; the magnitude of exposure (number of workers exposed and duration of exposure); and the relative risk at the site (likelihood of an incident based on current hazards and the level of controls being applied to those hazards AND past experience).
How does one identify the sites to target? Look for industries/companies/processes that involve well-known hazards, and then assess how sites are addressing them. For example, an ORC HSE Fatality and Serious Injury Prevention Task Force uses the following well-recognized hazards to help trigger prevention efforts:
• Electrical energy
• Mechanical energy (machinery and equipment)
• Pressurized vessels of all types (cylinders, tanks, pipes, etc.)
• Falls from Elevations
• Falls on same level
• Explosion and fire potential (chemical energy)
• Crushing hazards (heavy objects—caught in, under or between
• Engulfment hazards
• Suspended loads
• Confined spaces, inert energy, or other suffocation hazards
• Highly toxic chemicals
• Extreme heat or cold
• Motor vehicles
OSHA could develop a profile of likely hazards in key industries, and cross reference that data to aggregated inspection findings for each industry and inspection profiles for companies and/or sites in those industries. The resulting risk assessment could be used to create a priority list of sites to receive a broad range of Agency resources. Progress could be measured by what was done at those sites (leading indicators) and the resulting impact on outcomes. Furthermore, the risk profiling could later be used as part of the effort to revisit a management system standard.
C. Support the further study and implementation of the recent study of occupational safety and health surveillance systems by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
Opportunity: The NAS has conducted a comprehensive study of the national systems for capturing data on occupational injuries and illnesses. The current systems lack coordination and represent a hodge-podge of requirements that have been cobbled together at different times to meet needs perceived by different Agencies. Not only does that leave gaps in the data and limit overall effectiveness, it creates a maze of requirements that employers must spend precious time and resources figuring out how to navigate.
The 1987 National Academy of Sciences report, “Counting Injuries and Illnesses in the Workplace” evaluated existing systems, data needs and uses, quality assessment and assurance challenges, and special issues particular to capturing data for injuries and for illnesses. Study recommendations were used by BLS, OSHA and NIOSH to initiate change, including a major overhaul of the BLS system.
A more current study by NAS has recently been released. A Smarter National Surveillance System for Occupational Safety and Health in the 21st Century, provides detailed recommendations pertaining to injury and illness surveillance that outline data needs, address data quality issues, and call for better coordination among OSHA, NIOSH, BLS, State Agencies and others.
Solution: OSHA needs to take steps to better understand and document its data needs and better utilize existing sources of information. Much can be gained by leveraging past and current studies by the National Academy of Sciences and others to gain a fuller understanding of the gaps, overlaps, and inherent value of the nation’s injury and illness data systems. Clearly coordination of the different data collection efforts by OSHA, NIOSH, BLS, and various State agencies referenced in the latest NAS report will improve the data that are available to prevent unnecessary loss and human suffering. Hopefully it will also eliminate duplication of effort and waste.
D. Given the critical nature of its mission and the importance of strategically directing its scarce resources to where they are need most, OSHA should establish a limited-time Advisory Committee to consider all of the comments to this NPRM and make recommendations for moving forward.
Opportunity: It has been decades since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed and OSHA was created to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women.” Our profession (business, labor, the public sector, and academia) has gained a wealth of experience during that time in using data and information to identify and address risk. Yet, regrettably, this experience is not being effectively leveraged by OSHA.
OSHA traditionally solicits input on initiatives such as the one under consideration by opening the record to public comments via the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) rulemaking process. The drawback of this approach is that it does not foster collaboration and meaningful communication between stakeholders with differing perspectives. And issues that are complex (such as these) lack the benefit that could be gained by having interested and experienced stakeholders interact with one another in an open and iterative dialogue.
Solution: The airline industry has a process called CAST (Commercial Aviation Safety Team) outside of traditional rulemaking whereby all affected parties (business, labor, pilots, manufacturers, etc.) participate in joint dialogues to resolve safety issues and solve common problems. The benefit of this process is that different perspectives are shared and integrated into highly effective prevention efforts. CAST, along with new aircraft, regulations, and other activities, reduced the fatality risk for commercial aviation in the United States by 83 percent from 1998 to 2008.
While we believe in CAST, we do not propose suspending the current rulemaking. Instead, we suggest that OSHA would be better served by establishing a limited-term Advisory Committee to review and compile all of the comments and make recommendations to the Agency based on those comments.
Again, OSHA is to be congratulated for raising the issue of its growing need for better data to manage and deploy its scarce resources. It is an important issue for the Agency and for the safety and health community at large. We strongly support the Agency’s need for better data. We also believe in the general principles of openness and data transparency that underpin this NPRM.
But “the devil is in the details.” The NPRM needs to be rethought and foundational issues need to be addressed, such as the scope and method of collection as well as well-documented issues with the quality of the source data.
We applaud OSHA for starting the dialogue, and pledge our support for finding ways to improve this important initiative. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Sincerely,
ORCHSE Strategies, LLC Partners:
Stephen A. Newell
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