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Last week, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) heard testimony on modernizing and improving the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. These hearings were convened because OSHA has proposed a rule change that will directly benefit workers in “high hazard” industries, where workers suffer the most injuries and illnesses.
The proposed rule amends current reporting requirements to require all workplaces with 250 or more employees to electronically send all of their injury and illness data to OSHA quarterly. The improved tracking system also would require workplaces with 20 or more employees, in certain industries with high injury and illness rates, to electronically send their annual summary data to OSHA once a year. Presently, employers submit such reports on paper, and there is a significant lag in processing the data.
OSHA’s proposal would improve workplace safety and health through the collection of useful, accessible, establishment-specific injury and illness data. At present, OSHA does not electronically receive an establishment’s injury and illness data log. This void forces the agency to rely on data that is more than a year old when attempting to respond to hazardous workplace conditions. This is the opposite of a speedy response to hazards.
But OSHA has been met with strong opposition to this proposed rule change. During recent public meetings at OSHA headquarters, corporate lobbyists and spokespersons from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce voiced strong opposition to modernizing the tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses. These corporate interests complained that businesses would be “named and shamed” in the media, by labor unions and occupational safety and health researchers for publishing injury and illness rates on the Internet.
The corporate lobbyists were more concerned about employers’ reputations than they were about addressing the hazards that injure and kill workers every day.
The bottom line is that OSHA’s proposed rule change would improve the ability of employers and workers to identify and abate workplace hazards and violations of safety and health standards. It would allow occupational safety and health researchers to study current trends on a quarterly basis. The proposed rule would also give corporations with five or more work sites the tools to correct hazards on a large scale.
OSHA’s proposed rule change would improve the ability of the agency to target employers with hazards and give it the tools needed to identify dangerous conditions. The new rule should be finalized promptly.
Keith Wrightson is the workplace safety expert for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. Keep up with Public Citizen’s workplace health and safety work by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter