Deregulation of Data

Deregulation of Data

Recently, federal officials determined it was best to stop collecting certain portions of injury-related data. This has made safety research a bit more difficult, but it should also make the reporting processes for companies a little easier and more secure.

Near the beginning of the year, in the midst of the 35-day government shutdown, U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it was rescinding the 2016 Rule to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses. This is normally referred to as the Electronic Recordkeeping Rule.

The rule required establishments with 250 or more employees, or those in high-risk industries with 20 or more employees, to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) to OSHA each year.

These forms were basically detailed reports of any employee injuries a company experienced throughout the year. Companies have been required to keep these records for a long time, but they’ve never been required to submit them to any consolidated federal database.

Companies affected by this change will still have to submit an annual summary of their work-related illnesses and injuries (Form 300A, Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), but the summary is not as in-depth as the Forms 300 and 301 would’ve been.

Forms 300 and 301 will still need to be maintained on-site where OSHA can obtain them as needed during inspections and enforcement actions. The big change is they are no longer required to be submitted each year.

What Information Was Collected by Forms 300 and 301?

Quite a bit of detailed personal information was collected by the two annual injury-reporting forms.

Form 300 required companies to report the name of the injured or ill employee, their job title, the date and time they were injured, the location where they were injured, a description of their injuries or illnesses, and the number of days an individual was away from work or on restricted duty.

Form 301 went a step further into personal specifics. It contained requirements for an employee’s address, birth date, gender, medical injury treatment details, and hiring date.

Why Was the Rule Rescinded?

When the changes were announced, OSHA explained that its determination was made out of privacy and security concerns and the goal of reducing the reporting burden on employers.

“By preventing routine government collection of information that may be quite sensitive, including descriptions of workers’ injuries and body parts affected, OSHA is avoiding the risk that such information might be publicly disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),” OSHA said.

There’s also a bit of an administrative reasoning for making this change, on behalf of both OSHA and the companies submitting forms. A lot of detail was being requested, and there was some debate about how useful all of it would be.

“This ruling will allow OSHA to focus its resources on initiatives that its past experience has shown to be useful — including continued use of information from severe injury reports that helps target areas of concern, and seeking to fully utilize a large volume of data from Form 300A — rather than on collecting and processing information from Forms 300 and 301 with uncertain value for OSHA enforcement and compliance assistance,” OSHA said.

Not Everybody’s Happy About the Changes

The Electronic Recordkeeping Rule has been somewhat embattled for a few years now, since the 2016 elections. When the presidential administrations changed, the rule for submitting Forms 300 and 301 was postponed. Now, those requirements are completely rescinded.

Not everybody’s happy about the changes. In the days after the announcement was made to rescind the electronic submission requirements, three health policy organizations filed lawsuit against OSHA. In their filing, the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, American Public Health Association, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists took the stance that the rollback of these rules endangers worker health and safety.

“The data supplied by the rule is crucial to protecting worker health and safety and facilitating independent research into workplace hazards,” wrote officials with Public Citizen. They also added that during the rapid process to overturn the rule, inadequate time was given for public comments and support, for or against, the bill.

Not Exactly a Done Deal, Yet

How the litigation against OSHA’s decision will play out remains to be seen, but at the moment it seems the decision will stand. It’s kind of been that way for a while now with the administrative postponement in place, but perhaps now it’ll be cemented as such. For the time being, employers are off the hook for submitting Forms 300 and 301, but they still need to have them filled out and kept on file. It’s likely there will be more detail on this subject to come, so we’ll be keeping an eye out.