On the New Federal Rule Requiring Better Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

Following is a statement from Christine Owens, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project, in response to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s issuance of a new worker safety rule to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses:

“The new Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring certain employers to electronically provide OSHA with information on serious injuries and illnesses will save workers’ lives and make workplaces safer.

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“More than 4,800 workers were killed on the job in 2014; almost three million more suffered serious injuries. This is an unconscionable toll of workplace disease and death for a 21st century economy, and OSHA must do all it can to improve the safety and health of America’s workers.

“The collection of injury data the new rule requires will enhance the ability of the federal government, employers, workers, state and local governments, researchers and others to identify hazardous workplace conditions and take corrective action to prevent future injuries.

“With this new rule, OSHA will now receive the information it needs to target its resources efficiently and effectively. The data will enable OSHA and state agencies to identify high-risk workplaces in need of assistance and outreach regarding best practices. It will also enable OSHA to better direct its limited enforcement resources to workplaces with the highest injury and illness rates.

“It is hard to fathom that the agency in charge of workplace safety and health does not already get this information from employers. Congress understood the importance of injury and illness data to injury prevention for both OSHA, workers, employers and others, and in section 8(a)2 of the 1970 OSHA Act directed the secretary of labor to prescribe regulations requiring employers to ‘maintain accurate injury and illness records and to make periodic reports on work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses.’ With its new rule, OSHA has merely taken a logical next step—one that imposes no new recordkeeping requirements on employers—of requiring the electronic transmission of a form that employers have long been required to maintain.

“The rule also addresses illegal employer retaliation against workers for reporting a work-related injury or illness. From poultry workers who are threatened with being fired if they report an injury due to unsafe conditions to industrial manufacturing and agricultural workers who are threatened with losing promotions or bonuses for reporting an injury, illegal retaliation is a growing concern. It has resulted in the underreporting of injuries, further hindering efforts to improve real safety in the workplace.

“We applaud the Obama Administration, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and Assistant Secretary David Michaels for their efforts to protect workers—especially vulnerable, low-wage workers who often work in the most dangerous jobs and suffer higher rates of workplace fatalities and injuries.”

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