Where Did OSHA Go Wrong with Online Filings?

When OSHA announced that they would begin accepting online filings for claims, virtually everyone thought this would be an excellent idea. Harnessing the power and speed of computers to streamline the process was expected to be a huge benefit, and the fact that you could file from just about anywhere made it easier for many people. While it has been some time since the system was opened up, it really isn’t helping to solve any problems.

Unfortunately, while the filings are coming in rapidly online, they aren’t being processed very quickly by OSHA staff. In fact, claims are taking over 400 days for many OSHA investigations to be concluded. This incredible backlog of claims is a major problem both for OSHA, and for the people who are actually filing the claims.

Results of the Delays

There are many problems being caused by these extreme delays. One of the biggest issues that is now being faced is that when OSHA finally does get to the point where they can investigate a case, many people have moved away or forgotten the details of the situation. This makes it nearly impossible for them to come to a good conclusion to the situation.

To make matters worse, the long delays give companies or individuals accused of misconduct a lot of time to influence the individual who filed the claim online. There are cases where that person may be intimidated or even threatened. Individuals who filed the case will likely feel like not help is coming, so they are much more likely to cave under the pressure.

There are many problems that individuals and businesses are facing because of this extreme backlog of investigations. Rather than making people’s lives easier and safer, the online filing has actually made it more difficult and stressful. This is a major problem that they really need to take the time to analyze and attempt to fix as soon as possible.

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The Cause of the Backlog

There can be little doubt that introducing online filings has caused more problems than it has solved, so it is important for OSHA, and all citizens, to take a close look at what may be causing these issues. This is particularly important because normally moving from manual processes to online digital activities is a great way to improve efficiency.

The problem seems to be specifically related to the fact that since the online system was put in place, the total number of claims filed to OSHA has gone up significantly. This is likely due to the fact that the process is much easier now than it was in the past, and also because more people are able to complete the process without being influenced negatively by their employer. At least, that is, until after the filing has been submitted.

With more claims being submitted than ever before, OSHA is having trouble processing them in a timely manner. They haven’t added in new employees to help with the increased work load, so it is no wonder that they are falling behind. Without more investigators, it is unlikely that OSHA will ever get caught up. While there is always a concern about budget when hiring new employees, they could have used some of the savings they undoubtedly gained from using the online system, and applied it toward hiring new investigators. Even temporary employees could have helped to avoid this problem.

Lessons Learned

One of the major things that OSHA should learn from this experience is that when you streamline and improve certain processes, it can have unintended results. Of course, this isn’t just a lesson for OSHA. All businesses can look at this example and see that even the best of intentions sometimes have problems that were not predicted ahead of time. This is why it is so important for businesses and government agencies to be flexible in the way they respond to changes in their workflow, especially during and after a major change.

In this case, when OSHA realized that they were going to be getting a dramatically higher number of filings, they should have started looking into how to streamline the process. The obvious solution would have been to hire and train additional investigators, but they could have looked into other solutions as well, if there was no budget for the additional staff. Things like grouping similar investigations together, or working on all investigations into one company at the same time, for example, may have helped reduce the impact.

In addition, when something unexpected like this happens, it is sometimes necessary to back out the changes for a time, until a solution can be found. If OSHA would have disabled online filing once they started falling behind in their investigations, they could have caught back up and then looked into solutions on how to better implement this system in the future.

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