WASHINGTON, D.C. January 22, 2018 – The Trump administration is illegally withholding records about workplace injuries and illnesses, Public Citizen said in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Public Citizen filed the suit late Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Under OSHA’s injury and illness reporting rule titled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses,” which was finalized on May 12, 2016, employers with 250 or more employees and certain employers in high-risk industries with 20 or more employees are required to electronically submit their 2016 summary report of all injuries and illnesses to OSHA by December 31, 2017.
The rule provides that OSHA will make the data public to encourage employers to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses and to enable research into workplace safety. Now, though, OSHA is trying to weaken the rule by eliminating some of its provisions, and OSHA has not made the summary injury and illness data public.
In October, November and December, Public Citizen submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the summary injury and illness records submitted under the rule. Public Citizen intends to use the data to conduct research on workplace health and safety.
OSHA denied Public Citizen’s October and November requests. It stated that it had identified 23,461 records that are responsive, but it claims that they are exempt from FOIA because their release would “disclose OSHA’s techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations.”
Public Citizen appealed, arguing that the records are not exempt from FOIA because they were not compiled for law enforcement purposes, the release of the records would not disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, and disclosure of the records could not reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law. OSHA has not responded to the appeal or to Public Citizen’s December FOIA request.
“When OSHA issued the final rule in 2016, it said that it would publicly disclose these records to encourage safety,” said Sean Sherman, the Public Citizen attorney handling the suit. “For OSHA to now claim that releasing these same records could somehow compromise law enforcement is absurd.”
The lawsuit asks the court to find that the agencies’ failure to provide the requested records is unlawful and to order the agencies to provide the records.