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Is OSHA's newest safety effort actually 'naming and shaming'?

We mentioned in a previous post that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is considering whether or not to subject businesses to a new reporting procedure. If OSHA decides to institute this new reporting procedure, employers overseeing more than 250 workers would be required to electronically submit information to OSHA on all serious work-related injuries and illnesses that befall their employees. That data would eventually be made available to the general public.

Advocates of this proposal believe that it will empower OSHA’s work-related safety efforts because it will grant the agency greater access to important data and a greater understanding of the most serious hazards plaguing the American workplace. However, critics of the proposal are concerned that the reporting requirement will do little more than give the public access to information designed to shame and blame businesses which are affected by workplace accidents. This shame and blame may make businesses less likely to report accident data.

A similar debate is occurring within the American healthcare system. Advocates of more transparent patient safety data insist that the public and safety-focused organizations benefit when they are given access to this data. By understanding what mistakes are being made within the healthcare system, patients become more empowered to make the choices that are right for them and safety organizations become more aware of what issues are in need of reform. Critics of this transparent approach are concerned that physicians and hospitals will underreport mistakes in an effort to avoid shame and blame.

There are no easy answers to whether or not it will improve or imperil safety if such data is made public. As a result, OSHA’s proposal should be considered carefully and with all possible outcomes in mind before a decision is reached. Whatever option is most likely to foster the safety of American workers should ultimately be embraced.

Source: Forbes, “Will OSHA’s Shame Game Improve Workplace Safety?” Janet Novack, Jan. 8, 2014

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