Fast Facts

About 3.5 million workers suffered job-related injuries and illnesses in 2018. Employers must report data on work-related injuries and illnesses to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration each year. OSHA uses the data to target high-risk workplaces for inspections.

But employers did not report data for more than 50% of workplaces that met the reporting criteria, so OSHA may not know which have the highest injury and illness rates. OSHA hasn't evaluated the effectiveness of its procedures to encourage and enforce compliance with reporting requirements and lacks a plan to correct deficiencies. We recommended that OSHA address this.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

GAO's analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data showed that the number of recordkeeping violations OSHA cited fluctuated over 15 years (see fig.). An April 2012 federal court decision (that effectively limited the time period for citing these violations) and a January 2015 expansion of OSHA's rule for reporting severe injuries and illnesses coincided with, and were cited by, OSHA staff as key factors explaining these fluctuations.

Number Recordkeeping Violations OSHA Cited by Fiscal Year

Number Recordkeeping Violations OSHA Cited by Fiscal Year

Employers did not report any summary injury and illness data on more than one-half of their establishments that GAO estimated met the reporting requirements (see table).

Estimated Compliance with Summary Injury and Illness Reporting Requirement

Calendar year Estimated establishments that met summary injury and illness reporting requirements Establishments whose employers submitted summary injury and illness data
    Number Percent
2016 451,000 159,000 35%
2017 454,000 189,000 42%
2018 459,000 212,000 46%

Source: GAO analysis of U.S. Census Bureau County Business Patterns data and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) summary (300A) injury and illness data. Establishments in all 50 states and the District of Columbia reported these data. Data rounded to the nearest thousand. | GAO-21-122

OSHA has limited procedures for encouraging compliance with this reporting requirement and for penalizing non-compliance. For example, OSHA officials told GAO that they identified nearly 220,000 employers in 2019 who may not have reported their data and mailed reminder postcards to about 27,000 of them. OSHA also cited 255 employers for failure to report their data from mid-December 2017 through September 2019 after OSHA conducted on-site inspections. OSHA uses the summary injury and illness data to target high-risk establishments for certain comprehensive inspections. Because OSHA has not evaluated its procedures, it does not know the extent to which its efforts may be improving injury and illness reporting or what other efforts it should undertake. Absent more complete information, OSHA is at risk for not achieving its objective of targeting inspections to establishments with the highest injury and illness rates.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2018, about 3.5 million workers suffered job-related injuries, and illnesses and 5,250 died on the job, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Employers are required to record work-related injuries and illnesses, promptly report severe injury and illness incidents to OSHA, and certain employers are required to report summary injury and illness data electronically on an annual basis. GAO was asked to review how OSHA addresses recordkeeping violations, and implements its rule for reporting summary data.

This report examines: (1) how and why recordkeeping violations changed from fiscal years 2005 through 2019 and (2) the extent to which employers report summary injury and illness data and OSHA has taken steps to ensure compliance with this requirement.

GAO analyzed 15 years of OSHA recordkeeping violation data and compared OSHA and Census data to estimate how many employers complied with summary reporting requirements. GAO also reviewed agency procedures and relevant federal laws and regulations and interviewed OSHA headquarters officials and staff at seven OSHA area offices, selected for geographic dispersion and varying amounts of recordkeeping violations.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends OSHA evaluate procedures for ensuring reporting of summary data and develop a plan to remediate deficiencies. OSHA generally concurred with our recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Occupational Safety and Health Administration The Secretary of Labor should evaluate OSHA's current procedures for ensuring that employers electronically report their annual 300A injury and illness data to OSHA when required and implement a plan to remediate identified deficiencies. This should include its efforts related to: (1) encouraging employers to comply with the 300A reporting requirement; and (2) citing employers for non-compliance with this reporting requirement. (Recommendation 1)
Open
OSHA generally agreed with this recommendation. In regards to encouraging compliance, the agency said that they will evaluate efforts and procedures to encourage employers to comply with this reporting requirement and that this will include assessing the effectiveness of existing efforts and identifying additional opportunities to inform employers of their reporting requirements. In regards to citing non-compliance, OSHA committed to assessing whether conducting remote inspections for non-compliance with recordkeeping regulations are an effective and efficient use of resources. We believe this is important, as our report noted that relying only on on-site inspections to enforce non-compliance with this reporting requirement can be problematic because the agency inspects a small percentage of the establishments it oversees each year. Moreover, although OSHA inspects some establishments whose employers may not have reported their 300A data under its SST inspection program, according to officials, the vast majority of SST inspections are targeted toward employers who have submitted their data. This may create an incentive for employers not to report their 300A data as not reporting may reduce their chances of being selected for inspection. Without evaluating its current enforcement procedures and implementing a plan to improve the agency's efforts to deter and address the widespread non-compliance noted in this report, OSHA will continue to lack the necessary data to target inspections to establishments with the highest injury and illness rates and ensure worker safety and health.

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