Swamp Monster in the White House: See no evil, fix no evil.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank makes no secret about disliking Donald Trump. Instead of “draining the swamp” as he promised his supporters, Trump has become the “Swamp Monster” for his extreme secrecy (keeping White House visitor logs hidden), populating his administration “with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who are making policy for the industries that had been paying them,” and fulfilling industry’s requests for “regulatory relief” — which means reducing protections for workers and the environment.

With so many crimes against workers and the earth, I was interested to see that Milbank’s “favorite” was  “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s request that employers no longer be required to report their injury and illness records electronically to the Labor Department.”

This should give the lie to Trump’s claims that deregulation is about creating jobs. The Chamber is upset that the government “intends to post the injury and illness records on the internet for anyone to see,” because this “will provide unions and trial attorneys with information that can be taken out of context.” As The Post’s James Hohmann noted, Trump already signed legislation removing a rule requiring businesses seeking large federal contracts to disclose serious safety and labor-law violations.

Too much transparency gives swamp monsters indigestion. 

For background, what the regulation that seems to terrorize the Chamber of Commerce is a regulation that OSHA issued last year simply requiring businesses that are already required to record the injuries and illnesses that their employees suffer on the job, take a few additional minutes to send that information in to OSHA.

Why is this a good thing? First, OSHA would publicize this information so that workers would know which employers are more dangerous, and good employers can compare their safety and health records with other businesses in their industry.

OSHA would also use this information to better focus its inspections. It’s a waste of taxpayer money — and a waste of time for good employers — for OSHA to spend time inspecting workplaces that have no health and safety problems. Better that the agency should go to the more dangerous workplace, and the only way OSHA knows where to go — at least before someone gets hurt — is to look at business’s injury and illness numbers.

The OSHA regulation would also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who report injuries or illnesses.  If employees are intimidated from reporting because they might be punished, the accuracy of the data is harmed.

The deadline for reporting the information to OSHA — on a simple computer form —  is July 1, 2017.   In order to ensure that the submission process was as easy and error-free for businesses as possible, OSHA announced that it would put the forms up on the agency’s website last February, several months before the deadline. But come February, new administration and…nothing. Same in March. Same in April.

The only recognition of this problem is a notice posted in late February stating that “OSHA is not accepting electronic submissions of injury and illness logs at this time. Updates will be posted to this webpage when they are available.”

The Chamber challenges OSHA’s right to collect and publicize this information, even though the Occupational Safety and Health Act directs OSHA to “prescribe regulations requiring employers to maintain accurate records of, and to make periodic reports on, work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses…” The Chamber is correct, however, that the the 1970 OSHAct does not explicitly authorize OSHA to publish data on the Web — 20 years before the web was invented.  The Chamber also worries that OSHA will release “confidential and proprietary information” even though no personal information about injured workers will be publicized.

And finally, of course, the Chamber’s phobia of unions:  “Furthermore, posting safety records online will provide unions and trial attorneys with information that can be taken out of context and used in organizing campaigns, or form the basis of lawsuits.”

This regulation is now the law of the land and employers must soon comply. But they can’t comply if OSHA doesn’t post the data submission forms. So far, no word from the Frances Perkins Building.

What’s clear is that the Chamber and the Trump administration are totally in sync with one overriding principle: the less information workers or the public have access to, the better.   Too much transparency gives swamp monsters indigestion. 

Deconstructing the Administrative State OSHA Recordkeeping Regulations and Standards

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