Regulations unveiled Thursday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would require large firms to make their worker injury and illness records public, a major policy shift that is certain to meet with opposition from businesses.
David Michaels, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary overseeing OSHA, told reporters on Thursday that disclosing workplace injuries “will nudge employers to better identify and eliminate hazards.”
“Employers want to be seen as the top performers in their industry,” he added. “We believe that responsible employers will want to be recognized as leaders in safety
Under the draft regulations, to be published in Friday's Federal Register, companies with 250 employees or more would be forced to disclose injury and illness information via electronic reports four times a year. Businesses with at least 20 workers in industries that have high injury rates will need to submit electronic summaries of their injuries and illnesses once a year.
The reports would be accessible by the general public.
"With the information acquired through this proposed rule, employers, employees, employee representatives, the government, and researchers will be better able to identify and abate workplace hazards," a section of the 117-page rule reads.
Michaels said that the initiative was not designed to identify and punish businesses with high rates of workplace injuries. Instead, it “will help us target those places that can most use the OSHA resources, and that includes enforcement but also compliance assistance, consultant, education, et cetera," he said.
Companies must already track the injuries and illnesses their employees suffer on the job, though information available to the public does not include company-specific data.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 3 million workers were injured on the job last year.
“In some industries more than one in 20 workers are inured every year. This should not be acceptable in the United States today,” Michaels said.
Worker safety groups are likely to applaud the measure creating increased transparency, though business groups are already balking.
“It’s going to be placing a burden on businesses and employers that they’re going to be out in the public sphere, online, and it’s kind of punishing them for workplace injury and illness,” said Amanda Wood, director of labor and employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Instead of making workplaces safer, she said, the new regulation could lead to misimpressions about different companies.
“It doesn’t tell the full story,” she said. “You can have a number statistic up there, but you don’t know what the circumstances are and what the whole picture is. “
Thursday’s action reflects the latest in a series of worker rights and safety regulations issued in recent months under new Labor Secretary Tom Perez. The agency, along with the White House, has come under fire from watchdog groups that say the administration is moving too slowly to impose needed worker protections.
At OSHA in particular, groups have said funding decreases are hampering the agencies' safety inspections at companies around the country.
A report released in August by the Center for Effective Government found that the number of workplaces in the United States doubled from 4.5 million to 9 million between 1981 and 2011, yet the number of OSHA inspectors has fallen in that time. There are now roughly 4,300 workplaces for every OSHA inspector charged with ensuring that safety regulations are followed, according to the center, formerly known as OMB Watch.
In a recent interview with The Hill, Perez lauded Michaels's leadership at OSHA, saying he had effectively leveraged the agency’s resources to identify industries and companies where safety problems exist.
“It’s very important to be strategic, to target your resources in the areas where you see the greatest problems,” Perez said. “That’s how to become most effective, by understanding the data and targeting efficiently and strategically.”
An estimated 38,000 companies would be required to file quarterly publicly available reports, according to the draft regulations. The reports are expected to cover as many as 900,000 occupational illnesses and injuries every year, OSHA said.
Interested parties and members of the public will have 90 days to weigh in on the proposal.
-- This post was updated at 10 a.m. and at 2:34 p.m.