Occupational Safety and Health:

Efforts to Obtain Establishment-Specific Data on Injuries and Illnesses

HEHS-98-122: Published: May 22, 1998. Publicly Released: May 29, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) efforts to collect establishment-specific data on injuries and illnesses.

GAO noted that: (1) with about $2.6 million available annually in 1996, 1997, and 1998 for its data collection surveys, OSHA determined it could survey about 80,000 establishments each year; (2) within that constraint, OSHA used mainly Bureau of Labor Statistics data to select industries with high rates of injuries and illnesses; (3) OSHA used size of establishment as a determining factor for the number of establishments to survey; (4) in addition, OSHA knew some of the industries had high numbers of work-related fatalities; (5) OSHA surveyed establishments in these industries with 60 or more employees in both years; (6) employers surveyed were not required to develop new sets of injury and illness data to respond to OSHA surveys; (7) instead, these employers were already required by OSHA to keep at their establishments records of specific information on work-related injuries and illnesses; (8) OSHA also required surveyed establishments to provide information on employees' total hours worked and on the average number of employees who worked during the year; (9) OSHA planned to use the data collected to better identify establishments with the highest injury and illness rates so that it could more accurately target on-site compliance inspections to establishments with safety and health problems; (10) in addition, OSHA planned to use the data to better target its technical assistance and consultation efforts and to measure its performance under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 in meeting its goals of reducing establishment injuries and illnesses; (11) as of April 1998, however, OSHA had made only limited use of the data collected in its 1996 and 1997 surveys mainly because of two lawsuits; (12) a federal court ordered OSHA to halt implementation of a new program that, using the 1997 survey data, identified specific establishments with the highest lost workday injury and illness rates; (13) employers who declined to participate in this new program would remain on OSHA's list of employers most likely to be inspected; (14) the program has been suspended until the court issues a decision; (15) as a part of its data collection effort, OSHA gave no assurances about privacy or confidentiality when it requested establishment information from employers; and (16) OSHA has received many Freedom of Information Act requests for the names and addresses of the 12,000 establishments with high injury and illness rates that it invited to participate in the new program.

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