Rolling back workplace safety regulations, downsizing its already overstretched crew of inspectors, and now concealing workplace injury and illness records … the news coming out of Trump’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) these days may signal darker times ahead for U.S. workers.
The government watchdog group Public Citizen said it has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor and OSHA, alleging the federal agencies are violating the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule, which was finalized in 2016, by illegally denying requests for injury and illness data it made under the Freedom of Information Act.
According to the OSHA rule, employers with 250 or more employees and certain employers in high-risk industries with 20 or more employees were required to electronically submit their 2016 summary report of all injuries and illnesses to OSHA by Dec. 31, 2017.
The rule, which was finalized on May 12, 2016, provides that OSHA will make the data public to encourage employers to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses and to facilitate research of workplace safety issues.
Public Citizen’s complaint states that it made three separate requests for the injury and illness data for research purposes, but the Labor Department and OSHA denied the first two requests, made in October and November, claiming the records were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because they would “disclose OSHA’s techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations.”
OSHA confirmed it received Public Citizen’s third request, filed in December, but the agency has taken no action within the 20-working-day window required by the rule. OSHA’s handling of the requests indicates the agency could be slipping deeper into a lack of transparency.
Public Citizen has appealed directly to OSHA but the agency has not responded, prompting Public Citizen to take the matter to court. The group filed its lawsuit on Jan. 19 in a Washington D.C. federal court.
“When OSHA issued the final rule in 2016, it said that it would publicly disclose these records to encourage safety,” said Sean Sherman, the Public Citizen attorney handling the suit. “For OSHA to now claim that releasing these same records could somehow compromise law enforcement is absurd.”