OSHA alerts inspectors to look out for safety incentive programs

March 23, 2012

OSHA is telling its investigators: During inspections, watch for workplace policies and practices that could discourage workers from reporting injuries, which could be a violation of whistleblower and recordkeeping rules. Among the policies they’re told to look for: certain types of safety incentive programs.

In a March memo to its regional administrators and whistleblower program managers, OSHA cautions inspectors to watch for four employer practices that can discourage employees from reporting injuries:

  1. Safety incentive programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries. Examples: A company might enter all employees who have not been injured in the previous year in a drawing to win a prize, or a team of employees might be awarded a bonus if no one is injured over a period of time.
  2. Companies that have a policy of taking disciplinary action against employees who are injured on the job, regardless of the circumstances. “An employer’s policy to discipline all employees who are injured, regardless of fault, is not a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason that an employer may advance to justify adverse action against an employee who reports an injury,” the memo states.
  3. Policies that require discipline for employees who violate a company’s rule regarding how soon an injury needs to be reported. The rules can’t penalize workers who don’t realize immediately that their injuries are serious enough to report or that they are injured at all. Also, any discipline must not be disproportionate to the situation.
  4. When an employer disciplines a worker because an injury resulted from the employee’s violation of a safety rule. A key: Does the employer consistently impose equal discipline against employees who violate the work rule whether there was an injury or not? Enforcing a rule more stringently against injured employees than non-injured workers may suggest the rule is a pretext for discrimination against injured employees.

OSHA says in these situations, the company may be in violation of Section 11(c) of the OSH Act which states:

No person shall discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this Act or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding or because of the exercise by such employee on behalf of himself or others of any right afforded by this Act.

If the employee’s injury is not properly recorded, the company may also be in violation of OSHA’s recordkeeping rules.

For more information, go to www.osha.gov