The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the US Department of Labor has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “would amend OSHA’s recordkeeping regulation by rescinding the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 and 301”:
OSHA is amending its recordkeeping regulations to protect sensitive worker information from potential disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). OSHA has preliminarily determined that the risk of disclosure of this information, the costs to OSHA of collecting and using the information, and the reporting burden on employers are unjustified given the uncertain benefits of collecting the information. OSHA believes that this proposal maintains safety and health protections for workers while also reducing the burden to employers of complying with the current rule.
OSHA illness, injury, and fatality reporting rules was introduced under the Obama administration in 2014 and 2016, requiring employers to report work-related fatalities and severe injuries to the administration and later to electronically submit injury and illness information to OSHA annually. The new administration’s rationale for the regulatory change is that “the electronic collection of case-specific forms … adds uncertain enforcement value, but poses a potential privacy risk under FOIA,” the notice states.
Responding to concerns from the US Chamber of Commerce that its previous reporting standards were unfair to employers, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has decided to reduce the amount of information it publicizes about fatalities in American workplaces, the Wall Street Journal reports:
The publication of the reports—listing the names, locations, employers and circumstances of people who were reported to OSHA as having died in apparent accidents at work—began early in the Obama administration. Before that, OSHA did compile some information about fatalities, according to former OSHA officials. But they said Obama administration officials made the reports more publicized and included additional information.
Last week, OSHA removed links to reports going back to 2009 from its website. Instead, the agency posted a more limited set of information about U.S. workplace fatalities that resulted in citations for companies dating back to the beginning of the year. An OSHA spokeswoman said the new fatality-data listing respects the privacy of surviving family members because they don’t give out the name of the worker who died.
The Chamber of Commerce and other business groups had objected to the Obama-era administration’s approach on the grounds that publicizing the details of workplace accidents before they could be investigated risked unfairly tainting companies with reputations as unsafe places to work.
The White House on Thursday released the first budget proposal from US President Donald Trump’s administration, which makes deep cuts in many areas of discretionary spending to cover a substantial increase in funds for defense. One federal agency that stands to lose a big chunk of its funding is the Labor Department, which the Hill reports is allocated $9.6 billion in Trump’s proposed budget, a cut of $2.5 billion or 21 percent:
The White House budget proposed to crack down on “improper” unemployment insurance payments, claiming it will save as much as $536 per person. But it also puts various workplace training programs at risk. … Trump’s proposal requires the Labor Department to decrease federal funding for job training programs, turning over the responsibility to the states for keeping these programs alive. That includes closing job-training centers for “disadvantaged youth” which the White House said do a “poor job educating and preparing students.”
The White House would also put a job training program for senior citizens on the chopping block, which it claims will save $434 million. The plan would seek to save another $11 million by axing job training grants offered by the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration and “focusing the agency on its central work of keeping workers safe on the job.”
The planned cuts to OSHA’s job training programs suggest that the Trump administration is indeed looking to reduce the powers and responsibilities of that office. On the other hand, the White House is calling for more spending to help states set up apprenticeship programs.
Another noteworthy line item, SHRM’s Roy Maurer observes, is a $15 million carve-out for the Department of Homeland Security, one of the few departments whose budget is increased in this proposal, to begin implementing mandatory E-Verify nationwide—though only Congress can actually make E-Verify mandatory. Expanding DHS’s E-Verify program, which enables employers to that their employees are legally authorized to work in the country, is a key component of Trump’s plan to crack down on illegal immigration, although a recent study out of Arizona suggests that mandatory E-Verify doesn’t do that much to create job opportunities for legal residents.
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is one of many US federal agencies whose regulatory agenda is expected to shrink considerably under the Trump administration, after having introduced new rules and stepped up enforcement activities during the Obama administration. Now, Barry Meier and Danielle Ivory write in a New York Times feature, OSHA is still actively enforcing safety regulations, but the Labor Department has stopped publicizing the fines the administration issues to violators since President Donald Trump took office in January. Advocates of stronger workplace safety regulations see this is a step toward loosening OSHA regulations, or loosening their enforcement:
“The reason you do news releases is to influence other employers” to clean up their acts, said David Michaels, who was an administrator of [OSHA] during much of the Obama administration.
As part of a new rule issued in May by the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers are now forbidden from discriminating against employees for reporting a work-related injury or illness, and are required to inform employees of their right to report without fear of retaliation. Enforcement of this rule was supposed to begin in August, but was delayed once to give employers time to better understand the rule and how to comply, and again after a number of business groups sued to have the rule blocked.
As Steven Hurd describes at the National Law Review, the federal judge hearing the case declined on Tuesday to issue a preliminary injunction, opening the way for the rule to be enforced as scheduled starting today, December 1:
The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction of part of the anti-retaliation provision of the OSHA rule, claiming that the final rule unlawfully limited certain employer safety incentive programs and drug testing programs.
The court denied the motion, concluding that the plaintiffs had failed to show that they would suffer irreparable harm if the anti-retaliation rule took effect before the court had ruled on the merits. The court concluded by noting: “That the court has denied injunctive relief requested by Plaintiffs is not a comment or indication as to whether Defendants will ultimately prevail on the merits. This determination is left for another day.” Thus, the court will consider at a later date the plaintiffs’ substantive challenge to the anti-retaliation rule.
SHRM’s Lisa Nagele-Piazza notes that, like many other rules issued by the Labor Department over the past two years, this one may or may not survive the upcoming presidential transition:
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A new rule issued on Wednesday by the US Department of Labor requires employers in dangerous industries to report data on employee injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which will make that data public, Steven Greenhouse explains at the Guardian:
The new rules will require 34,000 “high hazard” workplaces with 250 or more employees to send OSHA information, and the agency will post the names of those workplaces and list the specific injuries – first removing any information that might personally identify individuals. Some 432,000 workplaces with 20 to 249 employees in high-hazard industries will be required to report considerably less – just the total number of injuries and illnesses and the total number of hours worked at that establishment the previous year. …
The new requirements will be phased in over two years, with the first set of data to be sent to OSHA by July 2017. The new rule makes it easier for workers to report injuries and illnesses and gives workers additional remedies if employers illegally retaliate against them for reporting or seeking to report injuries.
At the Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson outlines the government’s rationale for the new regulation and how businesses and labor groups are reacting to it:
Officials say that by making the injury data transparent, they hope employers will put a greater focus on safety in order to protect their reputations. David Michaels, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, compared it to a public-health grade for a restaurant, saying it could “nudge” companies in the right direction. …