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Q&A: David Michaels

Q&A: David Michaels

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration published its electronic record-keeping rule in May. David Michaels, assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, discussed various elements of the rule, including its anti-retaliation provisions and concerns expressed about potential cyber risk, and what's next on OSHA's regulatory agenda, with Business Insurance Senior Editor Gloria Gonzalez. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: How common or widespread is the issue of retaliation against workers?

A: We get thousands of complaints, of allegations, a year from workers who believe they've been retaliated against for raising valid concerns, and we investigate all of them.

Q: How do you see the anti-retaliation provisions of the electronic recordkeeping rule addressing the retaliation issue?

A: There's certainly some overlap. Reporting an injury or an illness to an employer is implicitly reporting a hazard, and we've seen many, many instances where workers have been retaliated against for reporting an injury. The reason to report an injury to an employer is so the incident gets recorded on the OSHA logs. The purpose of the OSHA logs is for an employer to have a roadmap to understand the hazards of the workplace so they can prevent other workers from being injured. Reporting injuries is a vital part of protecting all the workers in the workplace. For us to understand what's going on in the workplace, we have to have complete and accurate data, and if workers are discouraged from reporting their injuries, the data that is sent to OSHA and that will be made public will not be complete or accurate.

Q: How will OSHA protect the information gathered via its electronic platform, given the concerns risk managers have about cyber exposures?

A: We have extensive plans. First of all, we will not be collecting some of the most obvious personally identifier information. We don't want workers' names or their dates of birth or their physicians. There may be some potentially identifiable information in some of the fields, and we have plans to make sure those are well scrubbed before they're published online.

Q: Will there be any special efforts on behalf of small employers where it may be easier to identify injured employees given the size of their workforces?

A: Clearly people who suggest that don't understand what we're asking. We're only getting information about specific injuries if the establishment has 250 or more employees. We're not collecting anything from employers with less than 20 employees, and we're only collecting the rate of injuries, the number of work hours and the number of injuries, for certain employers with between 20 and 250 workers.

Q: Now that OSHA has published its silica and electronic recordkeeping rules, what are the priorities for the rest of the year with regard to proposed or potential rules from OSHA?

A: Fall protection in general industry, also known as walking and working surfaces, is the next rule that we're working on. We hope to finalize it soon. The process of issuing OSHA rules takes several years and in some cases many years. We're working hard to make sure that the next administration that comes in has a full plate of regulations in process so they can continue to work on them so they can issue regulations that protect workers.

Editor's note: The fall protection rule, more commonly referred to as the slips, trips and falls rule, was withdrawn in December from the White House review process in what was seen as a temporary move while the agency finalized its long-awaited silica rule and the electronic recordkeeping rule. The rule appeared on OSHA's Spring 2016 regulatory agenda with an August 2016 date for completion.