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New OSHA reporting guidelines uncover serious issues

Have you ever heard a news report about a finger in somebody's fast food? Watched the Friends episode where Phoebe found one in her soda can? Aside from feeling disgusted and turned off of that restaurant for a while, did you consider where the finger came from?

Loss of a finger is one of the serious workplace injuries that employers were not required to report prior to 2015. In fact, prior to 2015 the only required reporting was a worksite fatality. Under the new federal reporting guidelines, more than 10,000 severe work-related injuries were documented, shedding light on significant safety issues across the country.

That's only half of the story, though. Officials from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the Department of Labor believe the 2015 numbers may not reveal the whole story and suggest employers may still be underreporting. Though significant injuries (those resulting in eye loss, amputation, or hospitalization) should be reported within 24 hours, self-reporting is still the standard.

Part of the problem can be traced back to the lack of staff. Some 2,500 inspectors are tasked with monitoring 7 million to 8 million companies. This means that a number of incidents, approximately 62 percent, are investigated by the employers with little or no involvement of federal agencies. This incongruity adds to the culture of underreporting and creates a hidden history of injuries that should have revealed safety concerns if they had been addressed appropriately.

Inspectors have uncovered lengthy records of serious injuries that could have been prevented if proper safety measures had been adopted after an initial injury. Some employers have even actively attempted to hide obvious hazards rather than correcting them.

Take for example a woman in Chicago whose arm was maimed when "a conveyor loaded with liquid chocolate suddenly started up as a worker was cleaning a roller." Could this have been prevented? What safety measures were in place? More importantly, what safety measures have been adopted to prevent future injuries?

The important thing to remember is that employees have rights and should report any workplace injuries. If you've been injured or you feel something is being mishandled, it is in your best interest to retain an attorney who can help you through the complex workers' comp process.

The team at Ghitterman, Ghitterman & Feld is prepared to help injured workers in the Tri-Counties and Central Coast regions of California who find themselves facing a workers' comp claim. For more information on our team and the services we provide, visit our workers' compensation page.

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