The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced yesterday that it has issued a proposed rule that would dramatically change the way companies file safety records of workplace injuries and illnesses.  The proposed rule would  require that reports be filed electronically so that those reports can eventually be posted online and made available to the public.  In making its announcement, OSHA said the proposed change is in line with President Obama’s “Open Government Initiative,” which is meant to increase public access to government data.

The proposal does not add any new requirement to keep records, it only modifies an employer’s obligation to transmit these records to OSHA, according to an OSHA news release.  OSHA is proposing to amend its current recordkeeping regulations to add requirements for the electronic submission of injury and illness information employers are already required to keep under existing standards.

The proposed new requirement is for establishments with more than 250 employees, and who are required to keep records, to electronically submit the records on a quarterly basis to OSHA.  This would cover about 38,000 American companies, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels said.  Companies with 20 or more employees in certain industry with high injury and illness rates would be required to submit electronically a summary of work-related injuries and illnesses once a year.  That would cover another 440,000 companies, Michaels said.

Under current rules, employers are required to post annual summaries of injury and illness reports in a common area where they can be seen by employees.  While the OSHA website contains raw numbers on injuries at certain workplaces, it does not describe specifics about the injury or how it occurred.

Business groups responded by saying they are likely to oppose the proposed rule, pointing out that making raw injury data available to the public could be misleading or contain sensitive information that can be misunderstood or misused.  “Making company-specific data on injuries available for all to see would be a major problem and would likely lead to companies being targeted by outside groups who want to characterize these employers as having bad safety records,” Mark Freeman, executive director for labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in response to the OSHA announcement.

OSHA said the Federal Register notice will be published in the near future.  The public will have 90 days, through February 6, 2014, to submit written comments on the proposed rule.  On January 9, OSHA will hold a public meeting on the proposed rule in Washington.

More information about the OSHA proposed rule is available here.