A couple weeks ago, we reported on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's new reporting requirements for serious injuries (see "When a Worker Dies, or Loses an Eye or a Limb," 9/18/14). An analysis of the new OSHA rules published in Business Week observed that the injury data will be made public on OSHA’s website.
The article quotes OSHA head David Michaels, an assistant secretary in the Department of Labor, saying “We believe that the possibility of public reporting of serious injuries will encourage—or, in the behavioral economics term, nudge—employers to take steps to prevent injuries so they’re not seen as unsafe places to work ... After all, if you had a choice of applying for a job at a place where a worker had just lost a hand, vs. one where no amputation has occurred, which would you choose?”
But it turns out that OSHA is already presenting much more than just injury reports, and the information can be used not only by prospective employees, but prospective clients and your insurance agent. In a conversation with Mark Paskell of The Contractor Coaching Partnership, JLC got a tour of OSHA's Data & Statistics page where we learned that every jobsite inspection, or "OSHA audit," is posted as public record whether it leads to a citation of not. Paskell walked us through a Search Inspections By SIC query for all audits of NAICS code 236 (construction of buildings) in my area (Brooklyn, NY; OSHA Office: Region 2). This gave me a list of every building site that had been inspected in 2014 (you can set the time frame of the query), showing the address of the site and the mailing address of the contractor in change of the job; whether it was a union or a nonunion company (many complaints, Paskell noted, come from union companies urging OSHA to audit nonunion companies); whether the inspection was a planned visit or one stemming from a complaint or a "referral" (a recommendation to inspect from a source OSHA deems credible. Whenever an OSHA officer comes on site, it's wise to find out what triggered the inspection and to agree with the inspector on the scope of the inspection. For a cogent explanation of what to do when an OSHA inspector shows up on your site, see "Knock, Knock. Who's There? OSHA. OSHA Who?" on the OSHA Pro's blog); the inspection "emphasis" (most in the construction area seem to be fall protection; you can see the most frequent citations for NAICS 236, construction of buildings, here); and most importantly, the Case Status and whether or not a citation has been given, the amount of the citation and whether it was deemed "serious" or even "willful" (the amount of money the company gets fined is directly related to these determinations). Even if an inspection is based on a bogus complaint or referral, and is "closed," it remains in the database as a permanent public record. Any alleged violation remains "open" until it has been adjudicated by the area director, who either issues a citation, recommends another planned inspection, or closes the case.
Of course, you can not only search by SIC code, you can search by Establishment (company name). This is where it becomes a useful tool for, say, a subcontractor, considering working for a particular G.C. ... or a client considering hiring a G.C. or trade contractor ... or, as Paskell points out, by an insurance company deciding if your company is worth underwriting. If you suddenly find your workers comp or general liability premium rising, and haven't had a specific claim against you, OSHA's Data & Statistics may have something to do with it.