TRENTON – Continuing the fight to safeguard New Jersey workers, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the Trump Administration from implementing a new rule that would weaken employers’ public reporting obligations for workplace injury and illness information.
In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) directed all large employers – those with 250 or more employees -- to submit to OSHA information from three different workplace injury and illness tracking forms that employers already have to maintain. Just three years later, OSHA pulled an “about face” and disowned that commitment to transparency and public reporting.
Filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit challenges as “illegal and unjustified” OSHA’s decision to roll back public reporting requirements.
“New Jersey workers – and workers across the country – have the right to know about dangerous conditions on the job,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Public reporting of workplace safety information helps states enforce our labor laws, forces employers to remove hazards, and empowers workers to demand improvements. Workers deserve that transparency, and the federal government should not be trying to take it away. If Washington won’t stand up for our workers, then I will.”
“Workplace injury and illness reports serve the invaluable function of keeping workers safe,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “Documenting when, where and how often work-related injuries and illnesses occur helps us determine patterns and target educational and compliance outreach. This rule rollback makes working people less safe, and workplace hazards harder to identify.”
Joined by the Attorneys General of Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York, Attorney General Grewal’s lawsuit names U.S. Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt, the Department of Labor, and OSHA as Defendants.
In 2016, when it adopted the rules requiring large companies to electronically report the workplace safety information, OSHA touted the reporting requirements as vital because they would help OSHA and states target workplace safety enforcement programs, encourage employers to abate hazards before they resulted in injury or illness, empower workers to identify risks and demand improvements, and provide information to researchers who work on occupational safety and health.
The suit notes that the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requires an agency to “provide a reasoned explanation” for its new rules. Although OSHA now claims that the workplace safety information is not useful and that the electronic reporting might instead compromise worker privacy, the complaint alleges that OSHA has not “come close to justifying its views that the reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses had few benefits to states, workers and researchers, or that it puts workers’ privacy at risk.”
Because it lacks any valid rationale, the lawsuit argues, the new OSHA rule fails to meet APA criteria, has no legal basis and should be vacated by the court. The lawsuit also asks the court to order that “all aspects” of the original OSHA reporting rule promulgated in 2016 be implemented.
At the time, OSHA took certain steps to reconcile its new reporting requirement with the need to protect privacy. For example, it elected not to collect data from certain fields on the reporting forms – such as employee names and the names of treating physicians – because collecting and publishing such data could create a privacy risk.
Today’s lawsuit notes that the Administration now dismisses “out of hand” the privacy protections OSHA devised and recommended in 2016, and is mounting a host of other “inconsistent” and “illogical” arguments to support its effort to ease the reporting obligation of large employers.
The complaint also alleges direct harms to New Jersey. Among other things, OSHA’s new rule will undermine the On-Site Consultation Service, a program run by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to help employers identify hazards and improve safety at their workplaces. The rollback also harms research and training at Rutgers University’s Center for Public Health Workforce Development, by limiting available information on workplace injuries and illnesses – as well as information that could provide insight on the effectiveness of prevention efforts.
The lawsuit builds upon a prior letter Attorney General Grewal sent in September 2018, seeking to block the new OSHA rollback. At the time, Attorney General Grewal noted that public reporting of workplace injuries and illnesses offers “significant benefits.”