The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently eliminated a 2016 rule that required companies with at least 250 employees to electronically submit annual reports on all worker injuries or illnesses. Its removal is being contested in court by New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota.
Businesses will still have to complete and maintain OSHA Forms 300 and 301 and make them available for inspection. They will also have to submit a summary of occupational illnesses and injuries, but the information won’t be as detailed.
OSHA stated that it wanted to avoid the risk of sensitive information, such as injury and impairment descriptions, being publicly disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act and identified with a particular employee.
The attorneys general from the six dissenting states insist that there is no rationale or legal basis for removing the reporting requirement. They point out that no personally identifiable information appears on any of the OSHA forms and that privacy concerns were properly addressed when the 2016 rule took effect.
On March 6, the six states filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They want the court to vacate the new standard and order OSHA to continue observing the 2016 rule. The Massachusetts Attorney General warned that if the courts don’t intervene, workplaces everywhere will become more dangerous and worker injuries will increase in number.
Before the 2016 rule took effect, employers had to record information about workplace illnesses and injuries on tracking forms and make them available to state or OSHA inspectors when requested. The rule required companies with 250 or more workers to submit the forms to OSHA electronically, the rationale being that OSHA and the states would be better able to enforce workplace safety programs and empower employees to recognize risks.
In July 2018, OSHA proposed that the rule be amended, and last January it published new guidelines, contending that the risks of collecting this type of information outweighed the benefits.
The attorneys general of the six states involved in the court action argue that OSHA failed to produce any evidence that supported its concerns about privacy issues related to the reporting of workplace illnesses and injuries. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health insisted that analyzing data on these incidents is an essential part of maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.
They have been joined in the fight by nonprofit group Public Citizen, which claims that revising the regulation violates the Administrative Procedure Act. The Act states that there must be a rational justification for such changes and that rules cannot be revoked on an arbitrary basis.
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