Who’s running OSHA now? Alexandra Berzon of the Wall St. Journal reports that OSHA cut back its reporting of workplace fatalities at the urging of the Chamber of Commerce. (Click here if WSJ link doesn’t work.)
Under the Obama administration, “they saw this as a way to scare employers straight,” said Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The idea was that companies would work harder on compliance if they knew the details of any accidental deaths at their facilities would be made public. The Chamber disagreed with that approach and thought that it unfairly maligned some employers.
The Trump administration eliminated press releases covering large enforcement cases, except for a few of the largest cases, and is also considering weakening a new OSHA regulation that requires employers to send injury and illness statistics to OSHA, some of which would later be published on OSHA’s website. That regulation also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for reporting injuries and illnesses, a provision that the Chamber also opposes.
The Obama administration has started to publicize workplace fatalities on the home page of the OSHA website in order to humanize the fatality numbers and ensure that Americans understand the impact of workplace death.
“The whole point of putting that up there was to impress on the American people that we had a serious problem with workplace deaths in the United States,” said Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of OSHA under President Barack Obama. “That it wasn’t just numbers. It was real people.”
Last week, OSHA removed a scrolling list of workplace fatalities from its home page, and buried it on its data page — without the names of the workers killed, and only for those deaths where citations were issued. The data was replaced on the home page with a box featuring “OSHA Working With Employers” featuring “just a few examples of our cooperative programs that work with and recognize employers who create safe workplaces.” Also removed from the home page was a video explaining that workers have the right to request an inspection and that it is illegal for employers to retaliate against workers for requesting an inspection. Among the several excuses OSHA used for the change was that it would protect the privacy of families (even though many are reported in the media), and that that by reporting after a citation is issued would somehow allow stakeholders to “better understand how workers are fatally injured on the job so they can prevent further tragedies.”
OSHA’s weekly reports were, for some, an important regular reminder of the human cost of workplace accidents and a source of information about workplace safety.
“It’s really important pieces of information just for raising public awareness,” said Celeste Monforton, an occupational health lecturer at George Washington University who writes extensively about OSHA.
Confined Space will continue to publish a list of workplace fatalities every week in the Weekly Toll.