Two former commissioners of the Bureau of Labor Statistics sent a letter yesterday to Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA.), urging them to oppose S.J Res 27, a Congressional Review Act resolution that would permanently block OSHA from enforcing a requirement that employers keep accurate injury and illness records.

Kathleen Utgoff, BLS Commissioner under President George W. Bush, and Erica Groshen, BLS Commissioner under President Barack Obama, wrote:

If this legislation passes, responsible employers who accurately record workplace injuries will be at a disadvantage competing with employers who do not maintain accurate records. It is important to protect the accuracy of employer injury data, and passage of this legislation is likely to result in less accurate data

The Senate is expected to vote as early as tomorrow on repealing the Volks Rule. Repealing the rule would make it impossible for OSHA to enforce accurate recordkeeping — important authority the agency had for the first 40 years of its existence.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a federal government agency responsible for measuring labor market activity (including the unemployment rate), working conditions, and price changes in the economy. They keep detailed track of nationwide injury and illness statistics, as well as fatalities, by industry, occupation, cause of incident and many other factors. That information is vital to establishing an evidence-based approach to addressing the nation’s workplace safety and health issues.  Injury and illness statistics are based on employer reporting and if employers are not required to report accurately, the integrity of the entire system will be undermined.

Accurate recordkeeping is not “paper work” or “red tape.” It is crucial to workers’ and employers’ ability to find and fix hazards in their workplaces, and enables OSHA to determine whether employers are addressing hazards appropriately or trying to hide them.

This attempt to roll back worker protections has the full support of the White House. The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a Statement on February 28, shortly before the House vote, supporting repeal of the OSHA rule. The statement claimed that:

The Administration is committed to reducing regulatory burdens on America’s businesses, and this rule imposes costs on employers resulting from continuing recordkeeping obligations.

Note that the Volks Rule imposes no new costs on employers, nor any regulatory burdens. Employers have always been required to keep accurate records. The only issue here is whether OSHA will have the ability to enforce accurate recordkeeping and whether workers will continue to have the ability to know who is getting hurt in their workplaces. 

Last week, Alaska Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas sent a letter to both Alaska Senators asking them to vote against repeal of the Volks rule, stating that that “Inaccurate illness and injury records will leave employers, employees, and the State of Alaska ill informed, undermining our ability to lower accident rates.”

Call your Senators.  Tell them to vote against SJ Res 27.

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