(By Mark Gruenberg, Press Associates International)  A new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule will force firms, worksite by worksite, into detailed, publicly posted job safety and health data disclosure – showing how safe, or unsafe, each workplace is.

 The point of the final rule, which will cover almost half a million individual workplaces nationwide, including all 34,000 sites with at least 250 workers each, is to let workers and companies see which sites are the safest and which are not, and to shame those that are unsafe into changing their ways, said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels.

The big change will force the firms to electronically report data immediately that they already send to the agency, Michaels told a May 11 telephone press conference. 

By mid-2018, all that data – yearly summaries for 432,000 companies with 200-250 workers each and detailed injury reports for the 34,000 largest firms – will be posted on line. But the first part of the new rule, regarding enforcement, starts this August.  

“Making injury information publically available will increase attention to safety,” Michaels explained. “But we’ll remove personal information,” identifying individual workers, he added.

 “Workers will benefit by choosing safer workplaces” once all the data is online and public, Michaels, a public health specialist, explained. “This is a public health issue. We believe responsible employers will want to be recognized as safe. Many employers now realize that if you manage for safety, you improve your bottom line.

 “Besides, if you’re choosing between workplaces, would you want to go to one that is unsafe?” he asked. 

The AFL-CIO welcomed the new rule. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce screamed about it, saying OSHA exceeded its legislative authority to force the disclosure.

After reciting the relevant provision of the 1970 job safety and health act – the Labor Department acting through OSHA, “Is authorized to compile, analyze and publish, either in summary or in detail, all data acquired” -- Michaels added: “The OSH Act was written 46 years ago. It doesn’t say we can have a website. Does that mean we can’t?”

“The new OSHA injury reporting rules will bring workplace injury and illness reporting into the 21STcentury and provide important new protections to workers who report injuries,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. 

“Until now, most workplace injury records have only been available at the workplace, 

making it impossible to know which employers have bad or good injury records. Employers in high-hazard industries will now have to electronically submit a summary of their firms’ injuries and illnesses to OSHA each year, and large employers will have to submit more detailed injury and illness information. OSHA, workers and the public will have access to this information.

“This new transparency will assist OSHA and workers in identifying hazardous workplaces. In addition, employers will be able to compare their records with other employers in their industry and public health officials and researchers will be able to identify emerging trends. This data will help prevent future injuries, illnesses and deaths.”

 Michaels said Alcoa is one model for its new rule. When former CEO Paul O’Neill took over the huge aluminum manufacturer, whose workers are Steelworkers members, he “made a commitment to safety.” Even now, Alcoa’s website’s homepage has a direct link to safety data.

“They became better-managed, they provided injury rates in real time, their injury rate dropped and their profitability increased,” Michaels explained. He predicted that would occur at other firms, citing Hasbro, the last U.S. board game maker, at its plant in Massachusetts. Michaels said, quoting a top Hasbro executive, that without the increased profitability that safety measures produced, that plant would have closed and moved to China. 

Michaels also said the new rule would let OSHA, which has fewer than 1,000 inspectors nationwide, along with state OSHAs, which have another 1,000, do their jobs better. The data publication will show exactly which jobsites have the highest safety risks. OSHA can then target and communicate with those firms on how to clean up their acts, and with their workers on their rights to safe workplaces. And the rule does not stop OSHA inspections, either.

Its focus on the largest firms also includes a focus on some of the most-hazardous industries, such as oil and gas production. There, the new rule will apply to the largest plants, such as refineries, which account for the overwhelming majority of accidents and deaths.

The new rule does not cover instant reporting and posting of all worker exposure to all hazards, only those which result in injury or illness on the job. Thus if a company potentially exposes its workers to hazardous chemicals, but protects them and nobody gets sick, there’s no reporting and no posting of the chemical hazard. 

The new rule also includes a new pro-whistleblower provision. Company retaliation and intimidation of whistleblowers is a common complaint to OSHA and the subject of recent hearings by its whistleblower advisory committee. 

This particular addition discourages company “incentive” programs – everything from cash awards to bingo winnings – to worksite teams that report “clean” records. That’s because such rewards also often accompany company warnings that those teams with reported injuries will lose chances for money. OSHA will now be able to cite such programs as violations, assess fines and order changes.

Mark Gruenberg is the editor of Press Associates Union News Service, based in Washington, D.C.