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OIG finds evidence of underreporting injuries, deaths to OSHA

In January 2015, some revisions that OSHA made to its injury and fatality reporting rule went into effect. Between that month and April 2017, employers reported 4,185 fatalities and 23,282 severe injuries. They conducted nearly 15,000 investigations to evaluate the causes of those injuries or deaths, and OSHA conducted over 10,000 of its own onsite investigations. Employers in Pennsylvania may think that these numbers are mostly accurate.

According to the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General, however, they are far from representing the reality. The OIG refers to a former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, who states that serious injuries in that two-year period have been underreported by 50 percent or more.

In its investigation, the OIG also found that OSHA has limited information showing whether employers abated a hazard or not as well as limited resources for identifying and preventing underreporting. OSHA has been inconsistent in its issuing of citations to late reporters and, thus, unable to use citations as an effective deterrent.

The OIG report makes four recommendations. First, OSHA should develop training for how staff members can identify underreporting. It should also improve case file documentation to include employers' essential decisions. Citations must be more consistently issued. Lastly, the report emphasizes the need for inspections on all Category 1 incidents.

Injured workers, for their part, may be able to take advantage of the workers' compensation program once they report the accident to their employer. They might wish to retain legal assistance before filing. A lawyer may be especially helpful in mounting an appeal after a claim is denied. If successful, victims may receive benefits covering a portion of their lost wages and their medical expenses. If they are already receiving benefits and have been out of work for more than four months, they might opt for a lump-sum settlement.

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