Now more than ever, it’s important to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” when it comes to reporting workplace injuries and illnesses. Under the National Emphasis Program (NEP), which began last October, inspectors are targeting companies in certain industries to review records, interview employees and conduct limited inspections. Facing criticism that it has failed to accurately track the rates at which U.S. workers get hurt or sick on the job, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, is treating the NEP as a pilot program to see if it can effectively target establishments to identify under-recording.

Reporting injuries, illnesses
Under OSHA requirements, employers need to complete three different forms that relate to injuries and illnesses over the course of a year. Two of these must be filled out promptly after a work-related accident or illness, and one must be completed on an annual basis.

• Form 300 is a log of work-related injuries and illnesses that must be kept at every site.

• Form 300A, the “Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses,” must be completed at the beginning of every year and displayed from early February to the end of April.

• Form 301, known as the “Injury and Illness Report,” must be completed within seven days of a workrelated incident.

The ‘new’ NEP
The new program is limited to certain companies in certain industries. According to OSHA, the under-recording of injuries and illnesses are most likely to occur at establishments with low rates of recorded injuries that operate in historically high-rate industries, including animal slaughtering, poultry processing and support activities for animal production.

The program is limited to those with 40 or more employees who have a certain Days Away, Restricted or Transferred Rate (DART). Companies that meet all these definitions should expect to be inspected.

During the inspections, OSHA officers will review several things. Officers will calculate the DART rate for 2007 and compare it against rates the employer has previously reported. If the rate is low enough, the officers will end the inspection immediately.

If the inspection does continue, OSHA officials will review the employer’s 2007 employee roster and then pick several employee records to review. Officials will also review medical records, workers’ compensation records, insurance records, payroll/absentee records and, if available, company safety-incident reports, company first-aid logs, alternate-duty rosters and disciplinary records that relate to injuries and illnesses.

OSHA officials will also talk to the company’s designated record keeper, employees who are likely to be injured or get sick, and managers and healthcare professionals will also be part of the inspection. They will also reconstruct log entries for employees and then compare them to the employer’s logs, and perform a limited review of the main plant areas to see if there are any obvious violations.

When they find violations, OSHA officials will follow standard procedures for issuing citations. If the inspectors find that employers have been trying to improperly influence employees, a citation that may qualify as “other-than-serious” would be changed to “serious” and a citation that would otherwise be “serious” would be considered “willful.”

Meat companies should begin working with their record keepers, managers and supervisors, human resources, and in-house and outside counsel to ensure they will be able to pass an inspection if one takes place.

Richard Alaniz is senior partner at Alaniz and Schraeder, a national labor and employment firm based in Houston.