Robots work on Model S cars in Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif., in 2015. Tesla is among thousands of U.S. companies that once had to submit employee injury records to the federal government. But OSHA suspended that requirement, prompting a lawsuit last week by three interest groups. Credit: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

The nation’s federal workplace safety regulator violated the law when it suspended a requirement that companies submit their employee injury logs, according to a new lawsuit by three advocacy groups.  

In their suit, filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the organizations contend the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration failed to follow proper procedures by extending the deadline without allowing the public to weigh in, and then announcing it would not accept the data from the roughly 450,000 companies subject to the rule. The suit was filed by Public Citizen, the American Public Health Association and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists.

OSHA on Friday announced that it intends to roll back parts of the Obama-era rule, with the new rule requiring companies to submit summary data to the agency, but not more detailed information. The organizations asked the court to order OSHA to collect and publish the electronic data.

“When OSHA issued the rule it did so because it recognized that the submission and public release of workplace data was necessary to ensure that workers have improved working conditions,” said Sean Sherman, a Public Citizen attorney. “OSHA’s decision to suspend these requirements subverts its central mission.”

The requirements were intended to encourage employers to improve safety and help OSHA investigators prioritize investigations. Public Citizen and other organizations hoped to analyze the data to identify trends in workplace safety. But some industry groups assailed the rule, saying OSHA had overstepped its authority.

In separate lawsuits filed earlier this year, Public Citizen and The Center for Investigative Reporting asked the court to order OSHA to provide the data after their Freedom of Information requests for the injury and illness data were denied. Both cases are pending.

From 1995 to 2011, OSHA collected data on 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, which were finalized in 2016.

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is a reporter for Reveal, covering labor and corporate accountability.

An Emmy Award winner, Gollan has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to lax manufacturing practices that contributed to deadly tire blowouts.

Gollan uncovered rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry. The series, Caregivers and Takers, detailed how operators enriched themselves while paying workers about $2 an hour to work around the clock. The stories prompted a congressional hearing, plans for prosecutions and new state legislation. 

Gollan exposed how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured. In response to her reporting, Congress passed a new federal law, the Government Accountability Office produced a report and the Pentagon began scrutinizing the safety records of more defense contractors.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian U.S., Politico Magazine and PBS NewsHour.

Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing Awards. She has been a finalist for an ONA Online Journalism Award, an IRE Award and two Gerald Loeb Awards. Gollan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.