By James L. Curtis and Meagan Newman

On October 20, 2011 the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses declined in 2010, from 3.3 million reported in 2009 to 3.1 million. The incidence rate declined from 3.6 cases per 100 employees to 3.5.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis responded to this data, acknowledging that injuries are down but stating that there is much more to be done. In a statement issued on October 20, Secretary Solis responded: “We are encouraged by the reported decline in incidence rates for workplace injuries and illnesses, which is reflective of the joint effort of government, business, unions and other organizations. Nevertheless, 3.1 million injuries and illnesses in the workplace is too high. Serious injuries and illnesses can knock a working family out of the middle class. Workers should not have to sacrifice their health and safety to earn a paycheck.”

Secretary Solis went on to point to “alarmingly high” injury rates among public sector employees and state that health care and social assistance workers were more vulnerable to injury than employees in any other industry sector. Finally, the Secretary repeated a theme that has been constant for the last few years; OSHA will focus on recordkeeping practices as a way to ensure every workplace injury and illness is reported accurately by employers.

All employers should take care to ensure that their injury and illness records are accurate and that recordkeeping procedures comply with OSHA standards. Moreover, employers in the health care and social assistance industries and public sector should take heed that OSHA will looking closely at their workplaces. Nursing and personal care facilities specifically should be aware that OSHA’s 2011 Site Specific Targeting Plan, which took effect in September of this year, places facilities with DART rates at or above 16.0 or a DAFWII case rate at or above 13.0 on OSHA’s primary inspection list. The Plan specifically states that inspections will focus on ergonomic stressors; exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials; exposure to tuberculosis; and slips, trips and falls. Nursing homes have also been a focus OSHA’s Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program since 2008. This Program is effective until February 2012 and was intended to address OSHA’s belief that inaccurate recording of occupational injuries and illnesses was widespread among employers.