Do Employers Under-Report Serious Workplace Injuries?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) record and process workplace accident reports from employers all over the country. All employers have a duty to report workplace injuries, but OSHA has estimated that more than half of workplace injuries go unreported. OSHA implemented new reporting requirements in January 2015, yet many small and mid-size business owners still may not know their obligations under these new rules.

Why Do Employers Fail to Report Accidents?

In some cases, an employer may not know there is an obligation to report a workplace accident. However, OSHA reports that one of the main reasons employers fail to report accidents is to hide unsafe work practices or compliance violations. Many industries like construction, manufacturing, distribution, and utility work must meet strict government standards for workplace safety. OSHA depends on accurate reporting practices to develop better safety standards for many industries. The Administration creates and revises safety standards and workplace requirements based on various factors, and underreporting makes it difficult to develop appropriate regulations and adjust standards as needed.

There are only about 2,500 OSHA inspectors responsible for reviewing nearly eight million workplaces in the United States, so OSHA heavily relies upon accurate self-reporting. Due to the fact that many employers try to obfuscate workplace safety violations, OSHA also upholds whistleblower protection laws that safeguard employees who report their employers for workplace safety violations or unsafe practices. If an employee notices an unsafe working condition that an employer has attempted to hide, or an employer has done nothing to address a known safety violation in the workplace, the employee should file a report with OSHA as soon as possible before the dangerous practice results in an injury.

Workers’ Compensation

Another reason many employers fail to report workplace accidents is workers’ compensation. The vast majority of U.S. Employers must carry workers’ compensation insurance that provides benefits to employees who suffer injuries on the job. Employers pay premiums to maintain this coverage just like any other insurance policy and various factors influence how much their premiums cost. Typically, employers with more employees in potentially dangerous positions pay higher premiums than smaller employees in lower-risk positions.

Workers’ compensation insurance premium rates can also increase if an employer has multiple workplace incidents in a short time or multiple claims for the same types of accidents. Generally, an insurer quotes a potential policyholder a premium price based on the policyholder’s level of risk. A high-risk policyholder is more likely to file a claim on the policy. Therefore, the insurer will likely require higher premiums for higher-risk employers. Some employers unfortunately interfere with workers’ compensation claims to avoid these premium increases.

Penalties for Failing to Report Workplace Injuries

An employer who fails to report workplace injuries could face fines and civil liability for injured workers’ damages, like medical expenses and lost income. However, employers that intentionally try to hide unsafe workplace practices or interfere with workers’ compensation claims may face additional legal penalties, like heavy fines or even forced closure from government oversight agencies.

Ultimately, workplace accidents result in lost productivity and may potentially lead to higher insurance premiums for employers. However, underreporting or intentionally hiding workplace injuries also lead to serious problems, including even more lost productivity and potentially business closure. It’s in every employer’s best interests to report workplace injuries in compliance with OSHA requirements and process workers’ compensation claims in good faith.

Some employees may hesitate to report unsafe working conditions for fear of reprisals from supervisors or employers for causing trouble. These employees should remember they have a legal right to report workplace safety violations without fear of punitive actions from the employer.  In the event that an employee reports a safety violation to OSHA or another government oversight agency and the employer takes negative actions against the employee, such as pay docking, termination, demotion, or unjustified transfer, the employee may have grounds for a retaliation lawsuit against the employer.