An about-face in OSHA reporting

Mar 25 2019

Will a 180 turn by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – admittedly under a new presidency – make it more difficult to track workplace dangers?

OSHA doesn’t think so. Citing privacy risks, the high-profile government entity overturned a 2016 rule established during the Obama administration. Businesses with 250 or more employees will no longer be required to electronically submit annual reports on every work-related employee injury or illness.

OSHA will still require those employers to document all data on the forms and preserve the paperwork should it be needed by their inspectors. Businesses must still provide summaries of workplace injuries and illnesses, just not as detailed.

Six states are taking issue with the “about-face” and suing the Trump administration to reinstate the mandates. Attorneys general from New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York claim that the 2016 rule is vital to accurately document hazards. They claim that the information is necessary to prevent accidents and is not a risk to employees’ privacy.

OSHA asserts that they are protecting sensitive data. Specific information about injuries and personal and identifiable information about the worker could potentially get into the hands of anyone filing a Freedom of Information Act claim. In the end, OSHA’s goal is to improve enforcement and assistance while reducing the burden placed on employers.

The collective of states counter that the privacy argument was settled three years ago. OSHA had already stopped gathering employee and physician names and any additional personal information that would identify an injured worker.

The AGs want the new rule vacated and the previous mandates restored, along with legal fees and other reasonable costs.

Data gathering in workplace accidents can play a vital role in identifying trends related to workers suffering job-related illnesses and injuries that can interrupt or end careers. Full and timely disclosure may go a long way to keep employees healthy and gainfully employed.