Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello plans to travel to Washington on Thursday to testify against a proposed federal regulation that U.S. labor officials have touted as a way to improve workplace safety.
The proposal would require about 250,000 U.S. businesses to electronically submit their workplace injury and illness reports to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration so the information could be posted online.
Costello says it is unproven that making that information available to the public would improve public safety and he expects it to have bad, unintended consequences.
“What is coming out under the federal government today is something which is unprecedented and unproven and, in my opinion, universally unwelcomed,” said Costello, euphemistically referring to the proposed regulation as “naming and shaming.”
Costello said he has discussed the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation with 20 to 25 Oklahoma businessmen and described their reactions as “alarmed, concerned and discouraged.”
Mike Seney, senior vice president of policy analysis and strategic planning for the State Chamber of Oklahoma, agreed with Costello's position.
“Oklahoma business owners know that employees are the most important asset, and the safety of our workers is paramount,” Seney said.
“That being said, the proposed regulations go too far with OSHA planning to post the data online. The recording of an accident or injury does not mean the employer was at fault or tell the full story of what happened.
“Businesses fear the data could provide a misleading view of their workplaces, leading to lawyers trolling for potential lawsuit clients and bureaucrats increasing regulatory burdens.”
Federal labor officials have a far different opinion of the proposed rule.
“We believe the approach we propose is an effective, inexpensive and nonprescriptive way to encourage employers to reduce hazards and therefore save lives and limbs,” David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said last November at a news conference announcing the proposed rule.
“Public posting of workplace injury and illness information will nudge employers to better identify and eliminate hazards,” Michaels said.
“Employers want to be seen as the top performers in their industry. Just as some corporations strive to demonstrate their commitment to reducing pollution, or using renewable energy, we believe that responsible employers will want to be recognized as leaders in safety.”
Businesses already are required to collect and keep the information at their work sites.
The proposed regulation would just make the information publicly accessible.
‘Fraught with peril'
Costello contends it also will have unintended consequences.
“It creates an incentive for some people to be dishonest,” Costello said. “It creates a further burden on the businesses, themselves. It also would create a pick list for attorneys to cherry pick records (for potential lawsuits).”
“It would allow lawyers to solicit business, it would diminish entrepreneurial activity, job creation,” he said. “It's fraught with peril.”
Costello said the proposed regulation also would be divisive because competitors would use comparative safety data against each other in job recruitment.
“There's no proof that this actually improves safety, and if it does, it may be marginal,” Costello said.
He said if federal officials are convinced the change would be beneficial, they should try it out on a test basis before implementing it nationwide.
Costello said he is scheduled to testify 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.