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The government requires large employers to keep records of on-the-job injuries suffered by their employees. Now, the Obama administration wants to make those records easily available on a website. It says that would lead to safer workplaces. Manufacturers and businesses are objecting, arguing the data could be misinterpreted.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The initiative comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, whose director, Assistant Labor Secretary David Michaels says from three to five million workers are injured on the job in the U.S. each year.
DAVID MICHAELS: And that's not acceptable. So this new rule will help us reduce that number. Let's be clear about the rule, though. It has no new injury recording requirements and it won't affect small employers with less than 20 employees.
NAYLOR: Firms with between 20 and 250 employees will have to report just once a year and then only if they're in certain industries with high illness and injury rates. All employers with 250 or more employees will have to report quarterly. Michaels says OSHA is not asking employers to collect more information, but just to send the data they already collect to OSHA. He believes widely available records will lead to fewer injuries.
MICHAELS: Well, what we're doing is Behavioral Economics 101. It's the same thing that health departments do when they inspect a restaurant - they find rats or roaches in the kitchen, they post a letter grade, maybe an F, in the window of the restaurant. It's the fear of getting that low grade that encourages restaurant owners to change their behavior. OSHA is doing something that's very similar. We want employers to take ownership of their injury rates.
NAYLOR: Michaels says thousands of safe employers are proud of their injury rates and are happy to make them public. But some business groups are not so enthusiastic about the proposing reporting rule.
Amanda Wood is director of employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. She says it would do little to make workplaces safer.
AMANDA WOOD: Publicly disclosing specific injury and illness data serves little public good. It's easily misinterpreted and can lead to unfair conclusions or judgments about a company or particular industry.
NAYLOR: Business groups say the public disclosure of injury information could lead labor unions to target some companies, and even lawsuits from personal injury attorneys trolling the site. James Stanley is a former OSHA official who is now a safety consultant. He says reporting injury data is not an exact science.
JAMES STANLEY: The record keeping requirements, they're not really clear what should be recorded as lost time or what should be recorded as days away, or what should be recorded as a job transfer. A lot of these things are whether or not they occur in work and whether or not there was an accident, and if it was reported timely. There's all kind of issues that go into this.
NAYLOR: But Michaels at OSHA says the injury data isn't that complicated. He says if the information is easily accessible, workers can get a better picture about whether a potential employer runs a safe shop, and potential customers can judge whether they should buy products from a company.
MICHAELS: Look, workplace injuries are entirely preventable. We need to nudge employers to identify and eliminate hazards because OSHA is a very small agency. We can't get to every workplace. So this tracking tool is a tool to change what's going on in workplaces, to tell employers to work a little harder to prevent workplace injuries and workplace deaths.
NAYLOR: Michaels says what OSHA is proposing is similar to the reporting requirements the mining and railroad industries already have. OSHA will hold a public hearing on the proposed new reporting rule next month.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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