WASHINGTON — Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello took the side of employers here Thursday when he spoke against a proposed Obama administration rule that would require public disclosure of workplace injuries.
Speaking at a public hearing held by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Costello said the proposed rule was more about politics than public safety.
“It's the functional equivalent of a scarlet letter on individual businesses while creating a pick list for trial lawyers,” the first-term Republican commissioner said.
OSHA is proposing that employers with more than 250 workers in certain industries file records electronically each quarter that specify injuries and illnesses at their establishments; the records would be available to the public through a government website, though injured employees' names would be withheld.
Dave Schmidt, from OSHA's office of statistical analysis, said Thursday that businesses already keep the records. However, OSHA sees the information only if the agency conducts an on-site inspection or consultation.
Much smaller establishments in industries ranging from waste collection to home health care would have to submit annual reports.
OSHA has pitched the proposal as a way to identify troublesome workplace issues and ultimately improve safety. A representative from United Steelworkers International testified Thursday that the agency was “100 percent correct.”
Luke George, of the National Safety Council, said the proposed rule might increase workplace safety since it would allow OSHA to better identify places where workers were at the greatest risk and target assistance and enforcement more accurately.
However, he said, a large number of employers are already providing the information to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and would be required to send duplicate data to OSHA.
Also, he said, specific information about an illness or injury could lead to the public identification of an employee, even if his or her name is not included.
Organized labor groups have been generally supportive of the proposed rule, while business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have expressed opposition.
Costello said he was siding with employers because “the labor commissioner is supposed to look out for the interest of wage earners.”
“It is not in the interest of wage earners to declare war against job creators, particularly when it doesn't lead to safety,” he said here after making his public comments.
Tulsa Democrat Mike Workman, who is planning to run against Costello this year, said Thursday that Costello's trip to Washington wasn't an “appropriate use of time and resources. I think he needs to be more concerned about making records more transparent and accessible.”
OSHA is taking public comments on the proposed rule through March 8.