The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report faulting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for its handling of the injury-illness reports it collects each year from the nation’s businesses.

Each year OSHA audits about 250 of the injury-illness reports it receives from approximately 130,000 high-hazard work sites in the United States. The GAO audit of these audits, however, says that OSHA fails to instruct its inspectors to conduct on-site employee interviews to determine the veracity of the reports.

In addition, since the audits often take place two years after the reports have been filed, many of the affected workers have left the employ of the companies that issued the reports and thus cannot be interviewed.

Finally, the GAO found that OSHA has not updated its list of high-hazard industries since 2002 and thus doesn’t include eight such industries in its audits.

The report recommended:

OSHA inspectors must take advantage of opportunities to verify the accuracy and completeness of employer-provided records by interviewing workers who may be aware of injuries and illness that may not have been recorded by employers. It is also important that OSHA conduct its records audits as soon as possible after it collects employers’ injury and illness data to maximize the usefulness of information collected from worker interviews.

According to the accountability office, there were 4 million workplace injuries in 2007, including 5,600 fatalities. Moreover, the report says that more than a third of occupational health practitioners surveyed revealed that employers or workers pressurized them to provide insufficient medical treatment in order to hide or play down work-related injuries or illnesses.

Workers for their part, the report says, fail to report job-related injuries as they do not wish to be fired from their jobs or disciplined, also worrying about their co-workers losing rewards that are a part of safety-based incentive programs, such as bonuses or steak dinners.

The fear of increasing worker compensation costs and hurting their chances of winning contracts are a couple of reasons employers do not report workplace injuries and illnesses.