Halfway through the first year of OSHA’s new reporting requirements, many nonsubscribing employers are becoming more comfortable with the new requirements and options available for reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. As of this year, OSHA provides employers three options for reporting injury events: (1) by telephone to the nearest OSHA Area Office during normal business hours; (2) by telephone to the 24-hour OSHA hotline at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742); and (3) electronically at www.osha.gov. Although the electronic option may first seem the easiest method for reporting, employers should exercise caution before utilizing this option.
In order to electronically report an injury event, the employer must provide a detailed description of the injury event to OSHA that is submitted through OSHA’s website. This alone should cause some employers concern, especially since all of the facts surrounding an injury event are frequently still unknown within the applicable 8-hour or 24-hour required reporting period. Before reporting to OSHA the initial results of the employer’s investigation of an injury event, especially when that investigation has not yet been fully developed, employers should consider OSHA’s electronic reporting option only as a last resort.
When possible, employers should make every effort to report injury events to a live person via telephone at the nearest OSHA area office. Anything prepared by the employer that is submitted to OSHA via electronic reporting, and even voice recordings from an employer’s representative, can be fairly easily obtained by the public – including media outlets, attorneys, and interest groups – and potentially utilized against employers both in the press and in future litigation.