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Electronic Injury Reporting

California: Resist the Federal Rollback on Injury Reporting

By Doug Parker, Executive Director

The explosive growth of digital technology is attributable to one fundamental advantage — the ability to aggregate, analyze, and use information. The ability to analyze previously unimaginable amounts of data has changed how we do business, develop public policy, conduct research, and find community. 

The primacy of data-driven analytics has been accompanied by a tendency in some public policy circles to think that if there aren’t data on a problem, there’s no problem, regardless of the disparities of power and access that explain why data are hard to produce. As this trend grows, so does the need for available and transparent data relevant to policy making.

Transparency significantly affects behavior. During my time at the U.S. Labor Department, the increased tactic of publicly “shaming” bad actors by reporting their poor compliance records not only changed those companies’ behavior, it drove other companies to improve. Provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that require publicly traded mining companies to report to their shareholders on fatalities, accidents, and violations helped drive significant safety improvements. Put simply, transparency equals accountability.

Sadly, neither the information age nor the value of transparency have made sufficient inroads in the area of worker safety and health. The company that sells you soap has better data about your grooming habits than OSHA has about your workplace. 

In 2016, OSHA published an important rule to help shift the imbalance of information when it comes to injuries. The new rule requires worksites with 250 or more employees to electronically submit their annual injury summary, injury logs, and individual injury reports. Worksites in high-hazard industries with 20 or more employees must electronically submit an annual injury summary. These are all records employers were already required to maintain. Once fully phased in, injury information about these worksites will be publicly available online to inform decision making of employees, prospective employees, enforcement agencies, and the public. The new rule also improves protections for workers who suffer retaliation for reporting an injury and limits the arbitrary use of drug testing to discipline employees.

California was required to adopt this rule within six months of its publication, but has taken no meaningful steps to do so. It is one of only seven states where this rule is not in effect, soon to be one of only five. California has been a national leader in right-to-know laws to protect workers and consumers, but it will soon be at the bottom of the pile when it comes to access to workplace injury rates.

There is a particular urgency in acting to adopt this rule because the Trump Administration is moving to roll back much of it. If they do so before California adopts it, creating our own record-keeping regulation will become much more difficult and expensive. California, act now.