Trump Administration Bottles Up Another Workplace Safety Rule

This one would put job-related injury and illness records online.
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Employers worried about records of job-related injuries and illnesses becoming public can rest easy for now, thanks to the Trump administration.

The Labor Department on Wednesday said it would hold off on enforcing a new rule requiring certain employers to submit the records to the government for posting online. Companies had been expected to start handing over the records by July, when portions of them would be available to the public.

But in what was listed as an “update” on its website, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it would extend the deadlines for employers under the new rule. The agency also said it is not accepting the injury and illness records from employers at the moment.

A Labor Department spokeswoman said the agency had been fielding a lot of questions from employers about meeting the new requirements. The delay would give the agency time to “address their concerns,” she said.

But workplace safety advocates are concerned the requirements will be delayed indefinitely, as the Trump administration carries out a review of all current government rules for potential repeal. The safety advocates had hoped the public disclosures would shed light on dangerous employers and help OSHA target its limited resources where they’re most needed.

“This is about the administration siding with corporate lobbyists,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a workplace safety expert and former OSHA adviser now with the National Employment Law Project. “They’re not standing on the side of the nation’s workers and making sure they can come home with their health at end of day.”

Certain large employers in high-hazard industries for years have been required to keep logs of their workers’ injuries and illnesses, but the information isn’t public. OSHA goes through the records when they conduct workplace inspections, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics relies on the data for the injury rates they publish. According to Berkowitz, only about 450,000 workplaces are subject to the record-keeping requirements, out of several million around the country.

As OSHA notes on its website, part of the rationale for the new rule was to motivate employers to keep their workers safe: “Behavioral economics tells us that making injury information publicly available will ‘nudge’ employers to focus on safety.”

Put another way, employers with egregious safety records could be embarrassed. Jordan Barab, a former OSHA official under President Barack Obama, said on a blog he writes that the Chamber of Commerce was candid about this concern when they lobbied against the rule.

Posting safety records online “will provide unions and trial attorneys with information that can be taken out of context and used in organizing campaigns, or form the basis of lawsuits,” the business lobby group said.

The Center for Investigative Reporting noted last week that the Labor Department still has not set up a website to which employers would submit their injury data.

This is not the first instance of the White House stifling data that could potentially shame employers. The Labor Department has dramatically scaled back press releases announcing notable workplace safety or minimum wage violations. Under the Obama administration, the agency regularly used press releases as a deterrence tool, hoping more employers would follow the law if they were called out when they broke it.

Workplace safety regulations have been a prime target of the new administration’s regulatory rollback. Trump has signed bills undoing Obama regulations that cracked down on wage theft and required employers to keep better track of injuries. He also pushed back enforcement of a rule tightening the amount of cancer-causing dust that construction workers can be exposed to. The rule was estimated to save some 600 lives annually.

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