Some excerpts from Thursday's testimony before a U.S. House committee hearing billed as “Hidden Tragedy: Underreporting of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.”
Remarks edited for clarity and length.
On company incentive programs:
Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland, asked whether companies should be banned from giving employees bonuses or other awards for having low injury rates.
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Dr. Kenneth Rosenman, professor of medicine at Michigan State University: We need to go beyond an employer-based system, which would in some way minimize whatever incentives or disincentives are out there.
Sarbanes: Do you think there's enough data and information out there that we could eliminate the undercount problem?
Rosenman: Yes, I think we're smart enough to use other data systems to do a better extrapolation, do a better statistical sampling.
On why the government isn't talking with workers as it seeks to ensure the accuracy of injury and illness records:
John Ruser, an assistant commissioner with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, told lawmakers the bureau planned to interview employers about their record keeping procedures.
Rep. George Miller: Why don't you interview employees?
Ruser: At this point in time, we are choosing to talk to employers.
Miller: It will only have half the picture when this study is done.
Ruser: We want to understand decisions employers make when filling out OSHA logs and filing workers' compensation claims.
Miller turned to Dr. Robert McLellan, immediate past president of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Miller: Can we get there without talking to employees?
McLellan: I would certainly concur that talking to employees is important.
On whether studies about underreporting are accurate:
Rosenman published a study last year showing the current recordkeeping system missed as many as 66 percent of work-related injuries and illness that occurred in his state.
He also said his study – and another in Minnesota – found one-third of amputations weren't showing up in the government's data.
Baruch Fellner, an attorney representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the research is likely flawed. He said workers' compensation data and OSHA data can't be compared equally. For example, he said such studies include injuries that don't have to be recorded under OSHA rules.
Miller: Dr. Rosenman, Mr. Fellner suggests this is a mismatch of data. Is that accurate?
Rosenman: The bottom line is we want to know how many injuries and illnesses occur. ... Medical and hospital data is being ignored. I would say no, it's not a mismatch. There is a lot more out there and we need to be counting that.
Fellner: I don't discount that information....
Miller: What does additional evidence outside that system suggest to you?
Fellner: That there are three times more apples than oranges.”
Miller: I think he was counting fingers.
Rosenman: I disagree. We're all counting the same fruit.