Brown Leads Effort to Protect Workers Safety & Ensure Employer Accountability to Prevent Workplace Injuries

Trump Administration has Proposed Rolling Back Part of Rule that Requires Employers to Report Workplace Injuries; Proposal would also Reverse Anti-Retaliation Protections that Allow Workers to Come Forward Brown & 38 Senators Say Dept. of Labor Proposal could Put Worker Safety in Jeopardy

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown led 38 of his Senate colleagues last week in urging U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Alex Acosta to reconsider a proposed rule that would roll back key worker protections. The Trump Administration announced this summer that it would reverse part of a 2016 rule that requires certain high hazard industry employers with more than 20 workers and all employers with more than 250 workers to electronically submit information to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on workplace injury and illnesses. The rule also requires DOL to make this data on workplace accidents and injuries publicly available to ensure transparency. Finally, part of this rule included anti-retaliation protections to ensure workers feel comfortable reporting injuries and dangerous working conditions. The Senators said any attempt to roll back parts of this rule dealing with accountability and transparency measures could put worker safety at risk.

“Hiding workplace safety information from workers and the public is inconsistent with this mission and will reduce transparency and accountability in the enforcement of workplace safety standards.  These actions will have real consequences for workers, all of whom deserve to go to work confident their employers are compliant with worker safety laws.  They deserve to return home at the end of their workday unharmed.  We urge you to stand up for workers and abandon your efforts to rescind parts of the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule,” the Senators wrote in their letter.

Senator Brown has long been an advocate of improving worker safety standards and protections. In 2017, Brown pressed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on a series of actions the Administration took regarding worker safety, including its failure to nominate a qualified Administrator to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In that letter, Brown questioned Secretary Acosta on the Administration’s decision to remove data on deaths in the workplace from its website and implement a new policy to disclose fewer deaths – removing one of the most basic deterrents to unsafe working conditions and depriving workers and families of basic information on workplace safety.

Brown also wrote to Secretary Acosta last year urging him to protect mine safety and miners’ health by protecting a recent rule aimed at limiting miners’ exposure to respirable coal mine dust. The Senators’ letter came after the rule was listed among a number of rules to be re-examined for elimination. The rule was aimed at reducing work-related illnesses that miners face like black lung disease. Brown applauded the Department of Labor’s effort to limit coal dust exposure when it was announced in 2014.

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found below and HERE:

October 9, 2018

The Honorable Alex Acosta

Secretary

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Ave NW

Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Acosta:

We write to express our opposition to the Department of Labor’s proposal (83 FR 36494) to revoke part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) 2016 rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses (81 FR 29624).  Transparency, accountability, and accurate information are critical to preventing workplace injuries and illnesses, and the rule is an important part of OSHA’s mission “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for our working men and women.”

The rule, Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, was issued in May 2016 to ensure OSHA has accurate injury and illness data to best target its enforcement and compliance assistance efforts and to make workplace injury data more publicly available, informing the public and workers about the safety records of employers.  The rule does not impose any new recordkeeping obligations on employers.  Instead, it simply ensures that OSHA has accurate injury and illness information and that workers and the public generally can access information about workplace injuries that employers are already required to maintain.  Specifically, it requires certain high hazard industry employers with more than 20 workers and all employers with more than 250 workers to electronically submit information on workplace injury and illnesses.  Large employers must also electronically submit more detailed information, including specific information from incident reports.  The rule also requires DOL to put the collected information on the agency’s website.  Finally, the rule included anti-retaliation protections to ensure workers feel comfortable reporting their injuries and related dangerous working conditions. 

The 2016 rule updated an antiquated workplace safety reporting system and is bringing OSHA reporting on – and workers’ access to – critical injury and illness data into the 21st century.  Making workplace injury and illness data publicly available electronically is important to tracking, and therefore preventing, workplace accidents.  There is also a clear public benefit in informing workers about the workplace safety records of their current or future places of employment.

The Administration announced at the end of July, however, that it plans to reverse part of the rule.  Specifically, OSHA proposes to rescind the requirement for large businesses to electronically submit details about workplace injuries.  As part of its justification, OSHA claims that some of its proposed changes are necessary to prevent disclosure of “sensitive worker information.”  This justification is without merit as it ignores the fact that the original rule already preserves workers’ privacy by instructing employers not to provide any information that could identify employees.  In addition, the final rule already includes an obligation for OSHA not to release any sensitive information inadvertently submitted by employers.

The Administration’s justification is questionable further still given the other stated reasons for the rule’s rollback.  The Federal Register Notice announcing the proposed rescission states that canceling part of the rule will “maintain safety and health protections for workers while also reducing the burden to employers of complying with the current rule.”  The Administration also states that 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.”  There is nothing uncertain about the benefits of making the American people aware of where workers are injured or fall sick on the job.  The current rule does not impose any additional recordkeeping requirements; it simply requires companies to provide to OSHA in an electronic format information they already maintain.  Given that employers rely on email and electronic submissions to make their own operations efficient, it is reasonable for OSHA to extend those business practices to workplace safety reporting as well in order to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses.  It is therefore hard to see how requiring employers to electronically provide workplace safety data that they are already required to maintain is too much of a burden. 

Furthermore, the benefit to the prevention of worker injury and illnesses is clear.  This seems especially true in light of the Department of Labor Inspector General’s (DOL IG) recent finding that even worker fatalities and severe injuries are massively underreported by employers.  In its report issued September 13, 2018, the DOL IG found that it is estimated that 50 percent or more of severe injuries go unreported and noted that “[w]ithout complete information on work-related fatalities and severe injuries, OSHA cannot effectively target its compliance assistance and enforcement efforts.”  That common sense principle applies equally to the rule at issue here and is reason enough for OSHA to abandon this rollback of its rule to improve tracking of workplace injuries and illnesses.

Congress created OSHA to ensure that employers provide safe and healthful workplaces for workers.  Hiding workplace safety information from workers and the public is inconsistent with this mission and will reduce transparency and accountability in the enforcement of workplace safety standards.  These actions will have real consequences for workers, all of whom deserve to go to work confident their employers are compliant with worker safety laws.  They deserve to return home at the end of their workday unharmed.  We urge you to stand up for workers and abandon your efforts to rescind parts of the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule.

Sincerely,

Senator Sherrod Brown

Senator Tammy Baldwin                   

Senator Patty Murray 

Senator Chris Van Hollen                              

Senator Tina Smith

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator Debbie Stabenow

Senator Tammy Duckworth                          

Senator Gary C. Peters          

Senator Bernard Sanders                   

Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

Senator Cory A. Booker                                

Senator Margaret Wood Hassan

Senator Maria Cantwell                                             

Senator Edward J. Markey

Senator Robert Menendez                             

Senator Mazie K. Hirono

Senator Jack Reed                                         

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

Senator Richard Blumenthal                          

Senator Tim Kaine

Senator Richard J. Durbin                 

Senator Brian Schatz

Senator Ron Wyden

Senator Thomas R. Carper

Senator Michael F. Bennet

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Angus S. King, Jr.

Senator Christopher A. Coons

Senator Tom Udall

Senator Jeffrey A. Merkley

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Senator Kamala D. Harris

Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

Senator Christopher S. Murphy

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