The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has long required employers to maintain records of every occupational illness or workplace injury that occurred among their employees. These records were to be kept available for OSHA to inspect.

In 2016, however, a new rule was put in place for employers with 250 or more employees. Instead of merely maintaining the records, these large employers would be required to submit them electronically to OSHA.

The idea was to make it easier for both employers and OSHA to get a sense of overall workplace illnesses and injuries, to spot worrisome trends, and to target resources toward problem areas. It would encourage companies to recognize and abate hazards on their own. It would give workers the information they need to identify risks in their own workplaces. It would provide crucial information to researchers who study occupational health and safety. Ultimately, it would help make workplaces safer and prevent on-the-job injuries and illnesses.

Troublingly, OSHA has just announced a near-complete reversal on the rule.

The 2016 rule required large employers to submit an annual summary of work-related illnesses and injuries; a log of those illnesses and injuries; and an injury or illness incident report. OSHA’s new proposed rule would eliminate required submission of the second and third forms.

Why has OSHA rolled back a rule that could promote greater safety?

In a statement, OSHA claimed that it eliminated the electronic submission of the detailed reports to protect workers’ privacy.

“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,” it said.

It also asserted that reversing the requirement will “improve enforcement targeting and compliance assistance, protect worker privacy and safety, and decrease burden on employers.”

Six states, including New York, sue to put rule back in place

New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois and Minnesota have filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the rollback of the 2016 rule. They consider the electronic submission of the detailed information to be “an essential tool” for tracking workplace hazards.

They say that when the rule was adopted in 2016, worker privacy was taken into account. Even the detailed reports contain no personally identifiable information. The states call OSHA’s defense of the change illogical and unjustified.

Do you think submitting forms electronically — forms they are already required to complete — is unduly burdensome for large employers? Or does the potential for increased worker safety and health justify the collection of this data?