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Area businesses prepare for new OSHA mandates
Workplace injury reporting requirements getting stricter
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New federal mandates set to take effect Jan. 1 will likely increase the number of severe workplace injuries and illnesses reported by employers, and the impact will be felt by some area businesses and industries previously exempt from maintaining logs about on-the-job accidents.

The rule changes, implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, could also increase workplace inspections and fines or citations, according to local business leaders.

“It could be problematic for a lot of businesses that might have been exempt before but are no longer,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “I think every business is going to have to take a look at this.”

Employers must report all workplace fatalities within eight hours, and now must also report any inpatient hospitalizations resulting from on-the-job injuries within 24 hours. Previously, businesses were only required to report workplace accidents that resulted in injuries or illness to three or more employees at a time.

“It’s important to remember that these updated reporting requirements are not simply paperwork but have a life-saving purpose: They will help employers and workers prevent future injuries by identifying and eliminating the most serious workplace hazards,” Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a statement.

The National Safety Council reports workplace injuries and deaths cost the U.S. economy nearly $200 billion annually.

There were more than 4,400 workplace fatalities in 2013, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released in September, or about 3.2 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. That figure was down slightly from 2012.

Construction, transportation and agriculture jobs were among the most deadly. Deaths resulted from accidents, exposure to harmful materials and violent crime, among other causes.

In November, Robert Stokes died after being crushed under the weight of a car that had reportedly slipped out of gear while he was working as a mechanic at Parks Import Service Center on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville.

Employers with 10 or fewer employees remain exempt from the requirement to keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses. However, even these businesses and industries are subject to the new severe injury and illness reporting rules.

The new reporting requirements could have an especially significant impact on Hall County’s poultry processing plants and ancillary businesses, a better than $2 billion industry that creates or supports more than 10,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association and National Chicken Council.

“The poultry industry is dedicated to continually improving safety in the workplace while complying with federal worker safety regulations, including these (new) notification requirements,” Mike Giles, president of the Gainesville-based Georgia Poultry Federation, said in a statement to The Times. “Poultry’s 2013 rate of 4.5 cases per 100 full-time workers is just above the 4.0 rate for the entire manufacturing sector.”

The new OSHA reporting requirements also subject several industries that were previously exempt from all workplace injury-reporting mandates to new oversight, including automobile dealers, beer, wine and liquor stores, and performing arts companies and museums.

Meanwhile, industries that remain partially exempt from typical injury record keeping include social service organizations, several types of retail stores, outpatient care centers, and schools and universities, among many others.

Labor unions have been largely supportive of the new reporting requirements.

But Evans called the new reporting requirements a wake-up call for private industry.

“It’s really an education process every time there is a new change that’s issued,” he added.

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