The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has finalized a new rule that requires companies to make all of their injury and illness data public.
The agency already requires many American employers to maintain a record of injuries and illnesses, however, it claims that little or no information about worker injuries and illnesses at individual employers is made public or available to OSHA.
That’s about to change under the “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” rule, which revises OSHA’s “Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses” regulation. Under the new rule, employers in high-hazard industries will send OSHA injury and illness data that the employers are already required to collect, for posting on the agency’s website.
The agency likens the concept to public disclosure of kitchens’ sanitary conditions, which it says encourages restaurant owners to improve food safety.
“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace,” says Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job-seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities. Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at greatest risk, and enable ‘big data’ researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer.”
As has been the case with numerous rules and regulations put in place by OSHA in recent months, construction industry and business association leaders are not pleased with the agency’s actions.
“OSHA created a rule that does nothing to achieve its stated goal of reducing workplace injuries and illnesses and ignored the concerns from industry that this rulemaking will have unintended negative consequences,” says Greg Sizemore, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development. “[ABC] is committed to working with our members and OSHA to create safe construction work environments. However, in departing from its current ‘no fault’ recordkeeping system, OSHA has empowered itself to disseminate records and data to the public that fails to show the complete narrative of a company’s safety record or its efforts to promote a safe work environment.”
Sizemore says OSHA has “exceeded its authority by forcing companies to reveal confidential business details to the public” and “will give competitors undue access to business processes that should remain confidential.”
The Coalition for Workplace Safety, like ABC, has been an active participant throughout the electronic recordkeeping rulemaking process. It too claims the rule will negatively impact the American business community.
“Workplace safety is of the utmost importance to our members, however the announcement of an ill-advised and poorly-written regulation will only result in more regulatory burden with no guarantees to improve workplace safety,” CWS co-chairs Marc Freedman and Amanda Wood said in a joint statement. “Without authority to do so, OSHA intends to post employer, location and incident specific injury data. The CWS is especially concerned about the damage that could come from the disclosure of sensitive and proprietary information – which companies go to great lengths to protect. Just as troubling will be the mischaracterization that will result when incidents, such as bee stings, slips and falls, and even heart attacks that do not reflect an employer’s safety culture are posted. This rule reverses OSHA’s long standing approach that permitted employers to record injuries without fear of disclosure and therefore use the OSHA recordkeeping process as an internal management tool. Publicizing this data makes the mere recording of any injury an act of disclosure with associated negative impacts.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than three million workers suffer a workplace injury or illness every year.
According to a release from the Department of Labor, “the availability of these data will enable prospective employees to identify workplaces where their risk of injury is lowest; as a result, employers competing to hire the best workers will make injury prevention a higher priority. Access to these data will also enable employers to benchmark their safety and health performance against industry leaders, to improve their own safety programs.”
It continues, “… The final rule also promotes an employee’s right to report injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation, and clarifies that an employer must have a reasonable procedure for reporting work-related injuries that does not discourage employees from reporting. This aspect of the rule targets employer programs and policies that, while nominally promoting safety, have the effect of discouraging workers from reporting injuries and, in turn leading to incomplete or inaccurate records of workplace hazards.”
Using data collected under the new rule, OSHA will create a large publicly available data set on work injuries and illnesses. OSHA will remove all personally identifiable information associated with the data before it is publicly accessible.
The new reporting requirements will be phased in over two years. According to information from OSHA:
- Establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A by July 1, 2017. These same employers will be required to submit information from all 2017 forms (300A, 300, and 301) by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the information must be submitted by March 2.
- Establishments with 20-249 employees incertain high-risk industries (including construction and manufacturing) must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A by July 1, 2017, and their 2017 Form 300A by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, the information must be submitted by March 2.
- OSHA State Plan states must adopt requirements that are substantially identical to the requirements in this final rule within six months after publication of this final rule.
The new requirements take effect August 10, 2016, with phased-in data submissions beginning in 2017. The final rule is available on Federal Register here.