At a recent congressional hearing, construction-industry and business-oriented groups argued that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s final electronic record-keeping rule will not reduce workplace injuries but could increase lawsuits and public shaming of employers.
While GOP lawmakers on the House Subcommittee on Worker Protections agreed that the rule could have negative unintended consequences, the subcommittee’s Democratic members countered that the regulation would improve the safety of workers who are employed in high-risk industries, such as construction. Ranking member Frederica Wilson (Fla.) at the May 25 hearing said that, through its public-disclosure requirements, the rule “can help nudge employers to better safety outcomes.”
OSHA finalized the rule on May 11. The rule requires employers to publicly post injury and illness records. The new requirements take effect on Aug. 10, with phased-in data submissions beginning in 2017.
Employer groups say the public disclosures typically do not provide context for the injuries. As a result, the public could get a skewed view of an employer’s actual safety record, they say.
At the hearing, Lisa Sprick, who owns a small roofing company in Oregon, said OSHA’s rule is out of touch with how real employers operate.
Speaking on behalf of the National Association of Homebuilders, Sprick said, “OSHA should focus on working cooperatively with responsible contractors who are making every effort to implement the most effective safety programs, rather than moving forward with regulatory approaches that merely divert time, resources and best practices away from efforts to truly make workplaces safer.”
David Sarvardi, testifying on behalf of the Coalition for Workplace Safety, said the rule takes a misguided approach to reducing workplace injuries. The rule would result in “shaming” employers who have had a workplace injury. “To actually improve workplace safety, OSHA and employers should be focusing on identifying [the] true causes of injuries and illnesses and developing new technological means of correcting them to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.”
But Rosemary Sokas, an occupational physician speaking on behalf of the American Public Health Association, said the rule will create transparency and improve data accuracy. In turn, improved data will help public health researchers and employers to better identify sources of injuries at workplaces and develop plans and strategies to eliminate them.
The final rule also provides protections for employees who report injuries to their employers. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report found that employees often underreport injuries out of fear of retaliation or losing employer-provided incentives.
Sokas cited a study in which unionized carpenters were interviewed. One comment she read aloud was the following: “With my company, people are afraid to report injuries, even when they get hurt, because they will lose their jobs—not immediately, but in, like, two or three months, when it blows over, you’re fired.”
Subcommittee Chairman Tim Wahlberg (R-Mich.) said reducing workplace injuries and fatalities is a priority that crosses party lines. “However, there are times when we share a difference of opinion on how to reach that goal,” he observed.