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Blog

OSHA Announces Delay of Electronic Filing Deadline

Long Island Workplace Safety

Obama-era safety regulations, like OSHA’s “Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses”, have been coming under strict scrutiny in the new Trump administration. The final rule’s electronic filing components, which went into effect at the beginning of this year, have been highly criticized, challenged in court and now delayed. Under such conditions, facility managers are questioning the best course of action in pursuing compliance.

Filing Date Extended

In May of 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new rule labeled “Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses”. The new regulations require employers with 250 or more employees to electronically file all recordable injury and illness information. The rules took effect in January 2017 and mandated that establishments file their submissions for 2016 by July 1, 2017. Additionally, employers with 20-249 employees that are considered “high hazard industries” by OSHA are required to file. The purpose of such electronic filing is to create a publicly available database that discloses each employer’s compliance with safety rules.

The Controversy

Recently, OSHA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and suggested extending the deadline for electronic reporting by five months. This would push the deadline until December 1st. The statement provided the reasoning for the extension would be to “allow affected entities sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the electronic reporting system which will not be available until August 1.” OSHA’s statement, along with pressure from the National Federation of Independent Business, suggests that the group intends to rework certain aspects of the rule. The National Federation of Independent Business has strongly urged OSHA to push the compliance date into mid-2018. The postponement would give OSHA time to reconsider and revise the final rule.

This all comes following a lawsuit that was filed against OSHA’s rule by the National Association of Manufacturers and other businesses. The lawsuit alleges that OSHA lacks the statutory authority to enforce the rule and that the real-world impacts and costs are too high to implement. Most importantly, the agency runs the risk of sacrificing employee and employer privacy. Linda Kelly, the National Association of Manufacturers Senior Vice President, explains “manufacturers take pride in creating safe workplaces and are supportive of regulations that increase transparency, but this regulation does neither, and we look forward to fighting this in the courts.”

Their requests for a preliminary injunction were denied by the courts, but the issues brought up by the plaintiffs can still be brought back to court. A similar lawsuit against the new regulations has been brought to the Oklahoma federal court arguing that they would violate employer’s First and Fifth Amendment rights.

OSHA’s new regulations are being heavily criticized by a large portion of the business community. Additionally, OSHA has failed to develop and launch a platform or website designed for uploading reports. The postponement of the filing date coupled with the fact that OSHA is not yet accepting any electronic submissions points to a possible revocation or major reconsideration of the rule itself.

What Facility Managers Can Expect

Around 466,000 employers will be affected by the electronic filing requirement under OSHA’s new rule, but facility managers remain unsure how to proceed with the swirling controversy. Union groups and workers safety organizations worry that the pending lawsuits combined with the unpredictable Trump administration may not adequately defend the rule. Attorney Joseph P. Paranac, Jr. explains “while some advocates may be worried about the grant program, it’s too early to mourn the initiative’s demise…companies should refrain from overreacting to reports…Instead, organizations may wish to continue to keep track of developments and consult with the legal or other advisors before committing financial or other resources to a course of action.”

It is too early to speculate about the future of the final rule, and the courts have also conceded that the complaints against the initiative may be changed with OSHA’s reworking of the final rules. For these reasons, the best course of action for facility managers is to consult with advisors and identify the steps and costs required to comply with the current rules. It is best to hold off on immediate implementation.

Edwin G. Foulke Jr., former head of OSHA, strongly believes Trump’s administration will re-examine the final rule. His feelings are validated by many in the business community, while others think it’s too soon to disregard the now in-place regulations. With such confusion, most experts agree that the best course of action for facility managers is to plan for the costs and developments of compliance but hold off on immediately implementing them until further details emerge.

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