Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By Sam Hananel
WASHINGTON — Federal safety regulators on Thursday proposed major changes in workplace reporting rules that would require large companies to file injury and illness reports electronically so they can be posted online and made available to the public.
Safety advocates said the proposal by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would put more pressure on companies to comply with safety rules and make it easier for employees and the public to identify businesses with poor safety records. But business groups contend making the information public could be misleading and intrusive.
OSHA head David Michaels said the changes would provide better access to data for government safety inspectors as well as workers, employers, researchers and the public.
“Public posting of workplace illness and injury information will nudge employers to better identify and eliminate hazards,” Michaels told reporters in a telephone news conference. “We believe that responsible employers will want to be recognized as leaders in safety.”
OSHA said the change is in line with President Barack Obama’s initiative to increase public access to government data. The plan would require companies with more than 250 employees to submit the data electronically on a quarterly basis. That would cover about 38,000 American companies, Michaels said.
Companies with 20 or more employees in certain industries with high injury and illness rates would be required to submit electronically a summary of work-related injuries and illnesses once a year. That would cover another 440,000 companies.
Under current rules, employers are required to post annual summaries of injury and illness reports in a common area where they can be seen by employees. While the OSHA web site contains raw numbers about incidents at certain workplaces, it doesn’t describe what the injury was or how it occurred.
Some companies are also asked to submit their data to the Bureau of Labor statistics for its annual report on workplace injuries. But that data does not reveal the company where an incident occurred.
Michaels said OSHA would eventually post the data online after removing any personal identifiable information, though he didn’t say how soon that would happen. But he said the more quickly it’s posted, the more effective it will be in helping prevent future injuries. Given OSHA’s limited resources, he said, the new filing procedures would help OSHA target its enforcement more effectively where workers are at greatest risk.
Business groups say they are likely to oppose the plan, contending that raw injury data can be misleading or contain sensitive information that can be misused.