As a new federal rule takes effect in August to require employers to post injury and illness records electronically, lawmakers and construction-sector advocates on opposite sides squared off at a May 25 congressional hearing on the mandate’s approach to improved workplace safety.
The rule, finalized by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on May 11, requires employers to have “a reasonable procedure” for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. Phased-in data submissions begin in 2017. Frederica Wilson (Fla.), ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Worker Protections, said the injury posting requirements “can help nudge employers to better safety outcomes.”
Rule advocates insisted it would create transparency, make data on injury rates more accurate and protect workers from reporting retaliation. Attorneys say the rule could boost OSHA scrutiny of an employer’s required or requested post-injury drug or alcohol testing if the process deters employees from reporting incidents. Violators will face higher penalties. But one attorney notes a gray area of enforcement, due to state-mandated drug testing.
Construction and other business-group opponents testified that OSHA’s final record-keeping rule will not reduce workplace injuries and will increase lawsuits. Executives said the disclosures typically do not provide context for the injuries and could skew the public view of a firm’s safety record. Lisa Sprick, who owns a small Oregon roofing firm, testified for the National Association of Homebuilders that the rule “merely diverts time, resources and best practices” from efforts to help responsible employers improve safety. David Sarvardi, testifying for the Coalition for Workplace Safety, said it will result in “shaming” employers who have had a workplace injury rather than “identifying [the] true causes of injuries and illnesses” and developing technologies to prevent them.
But Rosemary Sokas, an occupational physician, said the rule’s focus on injury-data accuracy will help researchers and employers design corrective strategies. She cited a 2009 GAO report that found frequent under-reporting out of fear of termination or loss of benefits. Sokas noted a comment from a construction worker who said peers feared job loss in reporting injuries, “not immediately, but in … two or three months; when it blows over, you’re fired.”
Subcommittee Chair Tim Wahlberg (R-Mich.) said the issue’s importance crossed party lines but noted the “difference of opinion on how to reach the goal.”