The Labor Department suspended an Obama-era rule on May 17 that requires companies to electronically report their injury and illness records. This movement effectively keeps all injury and illness records from the public for the time being.
The Labor Department and OSHA have required companies to keep worker injury and illness records since 1971. Considering that almost 25,000 Americans suffer from ankle sprains daily, keeping records of occupational injuries is an incredibly important task. Unfortunately, not all workplace injuries are as easy to recover from as a twisted ankle.
From 1995 to 2012, OSHA required approximately 180,000 companies operating in high-hazard industries such as manufacturing and nursing homes to submit their reports via traditional paper mail. The program, though important, cost an estimated $2 million annually to maintain. As a result, officials decided to make the switch to electronic submissions.
The new electronic system took effect on January 1 and required employers to submit their data by July 1, but according to the Washington Post, OSHA never launched the website companies were supposed to use to submit data. Unlike the 58% of small and medium-sized business owners planning on improving their websites in the near future, OSHA has placed an unexpected delay on theirs.
In addition, the organization released a statement explaining that 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.”
OSHA spokesperson Mandy Kraft said in an email that the agency is delaying the rule and the necessary platform in an effort to address companies’ “concerns about meeting their reporting obligations” by the July 1 deadline.
But that’s not how many of the companies with data to submit feel about it.
David Levine, chief executive of the American Sustainable Business Council, explained in an email that his members “are eager to send OSHA their summary injury data.”
This type of data is especially important to nursing homes and other medical facilities. Memory care facilities typically provide 24-hour care for residents, but injuries can happen at any hour of the day. Peg Seminario, the AFL-CIO’s director of safety and health, said that the administration’s action limits both what the public can learn about safety records and what inspectors can glean from certain industries.
“Without [the website], OSHA is flying blind. because they have no information about workplaces across the country,” Seminario said in an email.
However, at least one former OSHA leader is pushing back against public criticism of the agency.
“Sixteen years’ worth of that data is on the Web right now, but no one complains about it,” said David Michaels, the head of OSHA from 2009 to January 2017, to The Washington Post. “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.”