OSHA: Schools must keep injury records

K-12 schools and many other educational facilities will now be required to maintain records of staff injuries and work-related illnesses and report them to Oregon OSHA, thanks to a new state rule change championed by OSEA.

OSEA has led the campaign that sheds light on the routine injuries incurred by school staff, particularly those working in special education and with behaviorally difficult students. Yet for years, schools have been considered a “low-risk” worksite, meaning that most injuries to staff were never reported. This lack of information made it extremely difficult for the Legislature, school district officials and OSHA regulators to discover and address violence in schools.

The new rule change will hold school districts to the same standards as construction companies, factories and other facilities that have higher injury rates than exempt worksites — and with good reason. For example, OSHA discovered that school employees miss more days of work — or are restricted in their duties — due to injuries and work related illnesses than nonresidential construction workers.

Beaverton Chapter 48 President Anna Taylor speaks to the importance of injury reporting data at a hearing in Tigard.

“Recognizing this is a big step in the right direction for school employees, OSEA is committed to continued collaboration with stakeholders including school boards, administrators, teachers and disability rights advocates to ensure the safety of students and staff in Oregon’s schools,” Metzger said.

OSEA and AFT-Oregon members testified in favor of the rule change at hearings in Tigard and Roseburg. Ruth Creek of Ontario Chapter 23 explained not only how she had been hurt on the job, but how her district discouraged her from filing incident reports “because their school does not want to have a record that suggests they are unable to handle their students.”

“The extensive testimony in the record suggests that the absence of required recordkeeping interferes with even minimal recordkeeping efforts in at least some school settings,” Oregon OSHA officials reported in their explanation of rulemaking.

OSHA officials added that the evidence “clearly suggests that schools are no longer low-hazard places of employment. Indeed, the testimony submitted on behalf of the school districts does not attempt to contradict that assessment, and in some cases confirms it.”

Administrators from Salem-Keizer and North Clackamas school districts testified against the rule change, complaining that compliance would require considerable resources. Oregon OSHA rightfully saw through this excuse.

“It may be that certain employers will face meaningful burdens in creating and implementing a recordkeeping system,” Oregon OSHA officials wrote. “However, those would be employers who are currently doing little to track incidents and identify trends — and those are precisely the situations where the benefit of implementing the rule would be greatest.”

While a 2013 law championed by OSEA already requires school districts to maintain records of injuries to school staff, the law has no enforcement mechanism. OSHA officials said that maintaining the OSHA injury log would satisfy this existing requirement, and holds districts accountable to the law.

“If employers are already satisfying the 2013 requirement, they should be able to meet the Oregon OSHA requirement by fine-tuning their existing approach, rather than developing one from scratch,” OSHA officials wrote. “If they are not satisfying the legislative direction already provided, then they should clearly do so.”

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