Americans have been hearing a lot less about workplace deaths and injuries from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since President Donald Trump took office and it’s not because job sites have become a lot safer.
OSHA has been quiet because of changes made during the Obama administration, which required the federal agency to disclose names of workers and the circumstances of their deaths, have been rolled back. In addition to publishing fewer reports, OSHA removed a scrolling list of names of workplace accident victims from its site last week.
“The whole point of putting that up there was to impress on the American people that we had a serious problem with workplace deaths in the United States,” Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of OSHA under President Barack Obama told the Wall Street Journal. “That it wasn’t just numbers. It was real people.”
While many workplace safety advocates saw the visibility of incident data as an important reminder and useful way to keep companies accountable to workers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce disagreed with the practice, claiming it unfairly smeared employers.
Marc Freedman,executive director of labor law policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the Obama administration saw the increased transparency “as a way to scare employers straight.”
This rollback takes place the same time the rate of deaths per 100,000 workers has been slowly increasing, especially among self-employed and contract workers, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
More than 4,500 workers in the United States die on the job each year and over three million are injured.
The Death on the Job report from the AFL-CIO estimates that this figure is actually underreported, and the true number of workplace injuries is between seven and 11 million each year.
Now rather than publishing the information from each incident, OSHA only releases fatalities that result in a citation in the states and territories it regulates directly. This means there are many deaths that don’t make their way into the federal public record, since 26 states have their own regulators, and those that do see up to a six-month lag on their release.
OSHA also reversed regulation that went into effect the first of this year that required employers to share electronic copies of injury logs they keep onsite.
The repercussions for employers putting workers in harm’s way remain very small under the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act. The average federal fine for a serious workplace safety violation was $2,402 in fiscal year 2016, according to the most recent report from the AFL-CIO. And the median penalty for killing a worker was $6,500.