The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may be understating workplace accidents and injuries by 30 percent or more, according to a report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
OSHA annually audits the records of a representative sample of about 250 of the approximately 130,000 worksites in the high-hazard industries it surveys. The purpose of the audits is to verify the accuracy of the data on injuries and illnesses recorded by employers. However, OSHA does not always require its inspectors to interview workers about injuries and illnesses, although such interviews could assist them in evaluating the accuracy of the records. Moreover, because the records audits are conducted about two years after incidents are recorded, many workers are no longer employed at the worksite and therefore cannot be interviewed.
The GAO report noted that many factors affect the accuracy of employers' injury and illness data, including disincentives that may discourage workers from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses to their employers and disincentives that may discourage employers from recording them. For example, workers may not report a work-related injury or illness because they fear job loss or other disciplinary action or are reluctant to jeopardize rewards based on having low injury and illness rates. In addition, employers may not record injuries or illnesses because they are afraid of increasing their workers' compensation costs or hurting their chances of winning contract bids for new work.