Monday, August 02, 2004

Court Orders OSHA To Disclose Companies' Safety Records

Right wing & libertarian think tanks often argue that OSHA is not needed because in a perfect market system, workers who think a job is too dangerous could just ask for more money, or move freely to a safer job. One of the many, many, many problems with this theory is figuring out which employer is safer. Aside from monitoring the news to see who dies where, there was no easy way...until now, thanks to a lawsuit filed by the New York Times.
A federal judge has ordered the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to disclose for the first time the company names and the worker injury and illness rates of the American workplaces with the worst safety records.

The ruling, issued Friday but released yesterday, came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October 2002 by The New York Times. The Times asked the agency, known as OSHA, to release the injury rates for 13,000 sites it had identified as having unusually high numbers of worker injuries and illnesses.

Up to now, the agency has published the names of the sites with worker injuries above an established norm, but not the injury rates for specific sites or any ranking to identify the worst offenders. In practice, it was difficult for reporters or the public to know where it was riskiest to work and whether the agency was effective in bringing about improvements.
Employers had allegedly worried that the information would allow "trade secrets" to be disclosed because the data included "hours worked" by their employees. OSHA had argued that the agency would have to spend valuable resources asking each and every one of the 13,000 employers for permission.

The judge noted, however, that the new recordkeeping standard already requires employers to post hours worked, so that the information is no longer confidential.
David E. McCraw, a lawyer for The Times, said the ruling forces the agency to "reveal information that we think should be public: what workplaces are America's most dangerous." The ruling applies only to injury figures for 2002.

Ed Frank, a spokesman for the Labor Department, which includes OSHA, said, "We are reviewing the decision and options to determine what approach best advances the department's mission to protect workers."
If the ruling is eventually expanded to additional years, the information will allow outside researchers to determine the effectiveness of OSHA's targeting program.

More here.