via The Hill, March 21, 2017
The Congressional Review Act resolution that passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate would repeal an OSHA rule clarifying the responsibility of large employers in dangerous industries to keep complete and accurate injury records. Fundamentally, this is about whether the government can sanction employers in the most dangerous industries for hiding serious workplace injuries and keeping fraudulent records.
Contrary to a claim by Stephen E. Sandherr in a March 20 opinion piece attacking OSHA’s injury recordkeeping rule, this rule it is not an overreach. OSHA simply clarified a long-standing obligation that has been enforced by every administration over the past 45 years. When OSHA clarified its rule, it was not controversial. They received few comments, and industry groups supported the rule, stating that without this OSHA rule, there would likely be a “huge detrimental impact on worker safety and health.”
So let’s not turn worker safety into a partisan issue. Previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, found widespread underreporting of injuries by many employers—which masks job hazards and jeopardizes worker health and safety. Complete and accurate injury and illness records are a critically important tool that employers and government use to identify and eliminate job hazards, which kill more than 4,800 workers a year and seriously injure almost three million more.
In fact, these employer injury records are the basis for the government statistics on workplace injuries, which guides both the government and industry decisions on prevention strategies. That’s why, just this week, two former commissioners of the Bureau of Labor Statistics—one who served under President George W. Bush and another who served under President Barack Obama—joined together to urge the Senate to oppose this resolution, which they warned would “likely have unintended and unfortunate consequences on the integrity of injury data” gathered by the BLS.
The OSHA clarifying rule does not impose any new costs or obligations on employers, nor does it affect small businesses. The rule only covers larger employers in the most dangerous industries. This rule does not kill jobs, it prevents jobs from killing workers.
If OSHA cannot enforce injury recordkeeping requirements, underreporting will proliferate and worker health and safety will pay the price. Rather than do the bidding of corporate lobbyists, the Senate should stand with this nation’s workers and oppose any attempt to repeal this rule.
Debbie Berkowitz is a senior fellow on worker safety and health with the National Employment Law Project. She formerly served as chief of staff and senior adviser in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
This commentary was originally published in The Hill’s Congress Blog.