The Labor Department on Wednesday suspended an Obama-era rule requiring that companies electronically report their injury and illness records, a move that effectively keeps these records from being publicly disclosed for the immediate future.
Several business groups, including the Associated Builders & Contractors, Associated General Contractors of America and the National Association of Home Builders, had challenged the 2016 Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule in court and lobbied the administration to jettison it on the grounds that it could unfairly damage the reputation of some of their members.
Companies have been required to maintain worker injury and illness logs since 1971, and between 1995 and 2012, OSHA had required about 180,000 establishments in high-hazard industries such as manufacturing and nursing homes to submit the summary data by mail. But the program cost $2 million a year to run, and officials decided to expand the requirement and transition it to an electronic system instead.
The rule, which covered nearly 441,000 workplaces, took effect Jan. 1 and employers were obligated to send in their summary data by July 1. But OSHA never launched the website for companies to submit the information, and it posted language Wednesday with an existing fact sheet saying it “is not accepting electronic submissions of injury and illness logs at this time, and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information” to the agency.
OSHA spokeswoman Mandy Kraft said that the agency delayed the rule to address employers’ “concerns about meeting their reporting obligations” in time.
“Sixteen years’ worth of that data is on the Web right now, but no one complains about it,” said David Michaels, who headed OSHA from 2009 to 2017 and is a professor at George Washington University. ’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “We know by making injury rates public some employers will work to prevent injuries because they want to be seen as safe employers and they want be seen as good employers.”
But Randy Johnson of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said firms were concerned that information “could be used by unions and others to smear companies.”
“Just because you have an injury in the workplace doesn’t mean you have the bad employer, or that the employer is violating safety and health laws,” he said.
David Levine, chief executive of the American Sustainable Business Council, said in an email that his members “are eager to send OSHA their summary injury data.”
“Not having this data increases the likelihood that workers will be injured. In addition to needless human suffering, that’s a cost to our economy overall,” Levine said.