Thanks to a new rule announced by the Labor Department on Wednesday, employers operating in dangerous industries must now submit data on workplace injuries to the federal government, which will then release the information to the public.
Officials say that by making the injury data transparent, they hope employers will put a greater focus on safety in order to protect their reputations. David Michaels, the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, compared it to a public-health grade for a restaurant, saying it could "nudge" companies in the right direction.
"Employers want to be seen as the top employers in their industry," Michaels said on a call with reporters Wednesday. "No employer wants to be seen publicly as offering a dangerous workplace." Michaels said the idea was to apply behavioral economics to workplace safety.
Many employers are already required to collect information on injuries, but the data rarely sees the light of day under the current system. With the new rule, OSHA will be posting the information right on its website, enabling workers, safety advocates, researchers and others to assess the safety records of particular worksites.
OSHA says the new rule will create "the largest publicly available data set on work injuries and illnesses" to date. It will only cover worksites in particular industries, and smaller worksites will have fewer reporting requirements than larger ones. Michaels said the new rule will not add any new costs to businesses, since the employers that fall under the rule should already be collecting the data.
The rule is part of a raft of new labor regulations that the White House wants to wrap up in the last months of President Barack Obama's tenure. Other reforms will expand the availability of overtime pay, limit workers' exposure to the carcinogen known as silica, and bar low-road employers from securing federal contracts. The Labor Department is finalizing the rules now before Republicans can bottle them up through the Congressional Review Act.
Trade groups representing employers are not happy with the injury reporting rule. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called it a "misguided" regulation that will "lead to sensitive employer data being published without context or explanation." The National Association of Manufacturers said it would lead to the "unnecessary public shaming" of companies. The Retail Industry Leaders Association said the data would be "vulnerable to misinterpretation."
But worker advocates say companies with good safety records shouldn't fear the data being made public -- only those with poor track records should. Christine Owens, the director of the National Employment Law Project, said it would help OSHA target its limited resources toward worksites that need the scrutiny. And the Teamsters union said the rule would address a "widespread problem" in which employers withhold injury data from their own employees.
This isn't the first time OSHA has ramped up reporting guidelines on employers during the Obama years. Last year, employers were required for the first time to promptly report all worker hospitalizations and amputations to the agency.