It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) collects worker safety data with a system that is better suited for the Stone Age than the Information Age. Right now, OSHA relies on data sources that are too limited to allow the agency to effectively respond to hazardous workplace conditions. For example, data from the OSHA Data Initiative is typically two to three years old. That simply does not provide a clear picture of current threats to workers. To correct this problem, OSHA just released a rule that will require certain employers to submit workplace injury and illness records electronically, ensuring OSHA will have timely and systematic access to occupational hazard data. When the rule is implemented, workers and other members of the public will be able to access the information through a searchable database on OSHA’s website.
- The rule helps government work more efficiently. With the most up-to-date injury and illness records, OSHA can use its resources to identify and target the hazards putting workers at the greatest risk.
- With greater efficiency in tracking injuries, we can expect to see improved results in preventing injuries. Once OSHA is able to analyze the greatest risks facing U.S. workers, it can take action to prevent and eliminate those hazards. Workers will inevitably reap the benefit of safer workplaces over time.
- Workers and the public can make informed decisions based on the information available. The more information, the better. Having access to injury and illness data on OSHA’s website will enable potential employees to make careful decisions about where to work. Likewise, customers and other members of the public can use this information to evaluate companies before doing business with them.
- Struggling employers will be able to get up to speed with workplace safety standards. The recordkeeping rule will help OSHA and other government agencies identify and offer services to high-risk employers and provide assistance in preventing hazardous conditions.
- The rule makes it easier for researchers to do their job. Groups like Public Citizen frequently use government data to monitor and report trends in worker injuries and illnesses. Take it from us – we’d much rather write our reports based on the most accurate data available.
- The rule protects workers who report injuries. Workers often don’t report their injuries to their bosses due to fear of retaliation, and OSHA can’t properly respond to unreported injuries and hazards. Public Citizen and other workers’ rights advocates called on OSHA to strengthen the proposed rule by banning employers from engaging in practices that discourage employees from reporting injuries. OSHA heard our concerns. The new rule contains a provision banning these anti-worker practices.
In essence, this rule will make life easier for workers, employers, government agencies, and the public. That’s something everyone can get behind!
Emily Gardner is the worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.
Keep up with Public Citizen’s work on these issues by following @SafeWorkers on Twitter.