Federal workplace regulators quietly announced this week that they will seek to extend the deadline for companies to submit their employee injury logs.
The decision comes a week after a Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting story highlighted how the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had failed to set up a website for roughly 450,000 companies required to electronically submit data from their injury and illness logs by July 1.
OSHA was ready to launch a website with information for employers in February, but it was never posted. Instead thousands of companies remained in limbo: “OSHA is not accepting electronic submissions,” the agency’s website said.
The agency doubled down on that bureaucratic murkiness, stating this week that it “is not accepting electronic submissions of injury and illness logs at this time, and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information.”
Critics worry that the potential delay — one of the first major moves under newly appointed Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta — will strip workers of protections and allow companies to dodge accountability.
“Acosta is weighing in on the side of big corporate lobbyists and not on the side of workers in dangerous industries,” said Deborah Berkowitz, senior fellow with the National Employment Law Project and a former senior policy adviser at OSHA under President Barack Obama. “OSHA won’t be able to target the most dangerous workplaces because they won’t have the data.”
A Labor Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The requirements are intended to encourage employers to improve safety, provide workers with a deeper understanding of the risks associated with their workplaces and help OSHA investigators prioritize investigations. In addition, under the new rule, companies are barred from retaliating against workers who report safety problems.
Industry groups have assailed the new requirements in federal courts in Oklahoma and Texas.
In January, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Home Builders and other industry groups sued OSHA in U.S. District Court in Oklahoma, arguing that the new rules would force employers to disclose private information.
They also contend that OSHA is overreaching its authority. Other industry groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers have argued in federal court in Texas that the anti-retaliation provisions are unjustified.
In March, Justice Department attorneys filed requests to stay both cases to allow for a regulatory review by the Trump administration.
“Not only does OSHA not have the authority to do this, it also exposes a business to significant reputational harm, all without demonstrating any evidence that it would effectively reduce workplace injuries and illnesses,” Ed Brady, immediate past chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, wrote in a statement in January.
From 1995 to 2011, OSHA collected the number of injuries recorded and the number of hours worked, allowing it to track injury rates for tens of thousands of employers. The data is available on the agency’s website. The program ended in anticipation of launching the new reporting requirements that are now in flux.
Jennifer Gollan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.