Timely Data Reduces Risk for American Workers

This is a belated Labor Day good news post. It’s the story of how one federal agency is putting critical data into the hands of workers who can use digital tools to hold employers immediately and effectively accountable for workplace safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency responsible for the workplace safety of millions of Americans, has stepped to the plate to give employees a better tool to watchdog their own work environment.

Observing that workplace injuries – and fatalities – are often preventable, Thomas Perez, who heads the Department of Labor, home of OSHA, is certain that the new rule will “help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing them.”

The new rule takes a double-barreled approach:

First, the rule requires that employers notify OSHA within 24 hours when someone is injured – loses an eye, or a limb or is admitted to the hospital with a work related injury. Currently employers are required to report only incidents that result in “catastrophes,” i.e. incidents that result in three or more hospitalizations.

Second, the reports of injuries will be made public on OSHA’s website. In 2013 that would have meant prompt reporting of 3,929 workers who died in private industry workplace accidents.

The idea behind the immediate reporting and posting of the data is to expand access to the dangers on the part of employers and employees alike – to “embarrass” employers and to offer workers current and accessible data on workplace safety.

Though worker safety is the priority, there are economic benefits as well to what is being called the “name and shame” approach. Armed with data, workers themselves can spot problems and demand action. Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek Josh Eidelson notes the critical need for more eyes on the front lines: “Since 1981, OSHA has shed health and safety inspectors to cut costs while the number of U.S. employers has doubled, according to the Center for Effective Government. A report from the group estimated that at current staffing levels, it would take federal OSHA inspectors 131 years to visit every U.S workplace.”

This led me to the CEG website where I found an analysis of a complementary resource issued by the Department of Labor in conjunction with Workers’ Memorial Day last April 28th. Sofia Plagakis of CEG has plumbed the depths of the Department of Labor’s Online Enforcement database. (http://www.foreffectivegov.org/e-gov-spotlight-dept-of-labor-enforcement-data-tool-provides-access-worker-safety-information)

Don’t judge a database by its less than compelling title. In fact, the Online Enforcement database is a treasure trove of DOL data, including OSHA data on 100,000 inspections conducted annually, violations, citations, penalties and accident investigation data.

Other agency programs included in the merged database include reports from four agency divisions:

  • Wage and Hour Division – violations, back-wage amounts, number of employees due back wages, civil penalties assessed;
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program – evaluations and compliant investigations;
  • Employee Benefits and Security Administration – data about enforcement efforts related to funding and investments of 800,000 retirement and welfare benefits plans; and
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration – data about mines, mine operators, inspections, violations and accidents.

Though the wheels of federal government may grind slowly, they do grind exceeding small. And it does behoove us to capitalize on the efforts, particularly when we think about the thousands of Americans who are directly affected by the data that the Department of Labor has put at our fingertips.

 

 

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