The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced sweeping new public disclosure requirements for workplace injuries and illnesses on May 11, ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability for employers who were previously able to hide safety records from employees, investors and the general public.
Under the old law, OSHA required employers in high-hazard industries to keep a record of injuries and illnesses, but little if any of that information ever became public or was even reported directly to the agency.
Employers were only obligated to file an annual summary of incidents, which provided little useful information. The new rule takes those requirements a step further, modernizing the reporting system and increasing transparency by making the new data publicly available on the internet.
“We welcome this new OSHA rule as a positive step toward holding employers accountable for workplace safety problems,” said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, ‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’ and that holds true for employers’ safety records just as it does for restaurants’ sanitation ratings or campaign donation disclosures. More information helps consumers, employees and citizens make better-informed choices.”
Regulators hope the new rule will lead not just to better reporting and research on workplace injuries, but to employers taking active steps to protect their workers on the job. Government statistics show that more than 3 million workers suffer a workplace injury or illness every year.
“High injury rates are a sign of poor management,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, in announcing the new rule. “No employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace.
“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,” Michaels said.
In addition to the disclosure requirements, the new rule also strengthens protections for employees so that those who report injuries and illnesses can do so without fear of retaliation.
“The beefed-up employee protections are especially important to the accuracy of these reports,” said IBEW Director of Safety David Mullen. “Too many employers claim to have a culture of safety when their policies really serve to discourage reporting of injuries and illnesses. OSHA has really gone a long way here to make sure accidents are reported accurately and that the data is made available to the public.”
The new requirements take effect on August 10, with data submissions phased in starting in 2017. OSHA and researchers will be eagerly awaiting the results, which should create the largest publicly available data set on workplace injuries and illnesses.
“Access to injury data will help OSHA better target compliance assistance and enforcement resources, and enable ‘big data’ researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer,” Michaels said.
“That’s a great thing for everyone,” said Stephenson. “We hope this new rule will lead to a lot more information about why accidents happen and to better ways to prevent them in the future. Every working person deserves to come home as healthy as they were when they left for the job.”