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Employers across numerous industries may soon face additional recordkeeping and reporting obligations based on a new rule proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In March 2022, OSHA proposed amendment of its injury and illness tracking rule, which requires certain employers to file illness and injury data with the agency each year.  The tracking rule was first implemented in 2016, and required reporting of fatalities, hospitalizations, and other serious injuries for all covered employers with 250 or more employees, and for employers with 20-249 employees in certain “high hazard industries.” The rule required most covered employers to submit their Form 300A  “Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses” annually.  It also required certain employer establishments with 250 or more employees to submit their complete Form 300 Logs of Work-Related Injury and Illnesses, and their Form 301 Injury and Illness Incident reports annually.  Finally, the rule called for creation of a public database of employer illness/injury data, including business names and illness/injury locations.

The rule generated immediate objections from the business community based on privacy concerns.  Both the Form 300 Logs and the Form 301s Incident Reports contain personal employee information related to their health status.  Employers worried that if OSHA required broad disclosure of these documents and created a public database based on their content, it would jeopardize employee privacy. Even though OSHA claimed it would not make personal identifying information available, employers were not confident the agency could prevent inadvertent disclosure. Also, employers saw myriad ways in which the information could be used against them that have nothing to do with worker safety.

In response to this criticism and after a change in the presidential administration, OSHA rolled back the tracking rule in 2019. The 2019 Rule rescinded the requirement for employers of 250 or more employees to electronically submit Form 300s and Form 301s, but continued to require them to submit Form 300A summaries each year.  Because the summaries did not contain personal information, the modified rule alleviated employee privacy worries.

Now, OSHA is poised to revive the original tracking rule, but expand the application of the most onerous requirements to smaller establishments.  On March 30, 2022, OSHA published its proposed rule in the Federal Register.  If the final rule mirrors the proposed rule, it would largely restore the 2016 rule, but apply the Form 300 and 301 reporting requirements to covered establishments with 100 or more employees instead of 250 employees. Those employers covered by the new 100+ rule are limited to the industries in Appendix B of the proposed rule.  The list is lengthy and includes many farming, manufacturing and packaging industry employers, healthcare employers as well as grocery, department and furniture stores. 

OSHA received public comment on the proposed rule through June 30, 2022.  OSHA received 83 comments from a mix of private and public entities, citizens, and industry groups.  OSHA will review the comments and employers should expect the agency to issue a Final Rule by the end of the calendar year, which would become effective 30 days after publication.

If OSHA enacts its proposed rule, covered employers will face significant additional burdens.  Employers must ensure that their Form 300 and 301 Forms are maintained accurately and filed in time to comply with the rule.  They can expect that OSHA will scrutinize these forms and potentially use them for inspection purposes or to develop industry-specific enforcement programs.  Moreover, OSHA may impose redaction burdens on employers and force them to remove personal identifying information from the forms before submission, which can be an administrative burden with potentially significant privacy implications if not followed carefully.  Finally, with additional data publicly available, employers should expect enhanced media and interest group activity based on their injury and illness data.  Even if personal information is not disclosed, interest groups and labor organizations will certainly seize on the available data to criticize employers or push for regulations, without consideration of the fact that employer fault cannot be determined from the data alone.

Employers should take steps now to prepare for the proposed rule and continue to ensure their safety and health programs minimize employee illness/injury risk.  The new rule would greatly increase potential legislative and public relations risks associated with poor safety and health outcomes, and effective illness/injury prevention programs can help employers avoid such scrutiny before the enhanced disclosure requirements take effect.