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The Public Citizen Foundation is accusing the Trump administration of withholding records about workplace injuries and illnesses and asking a federal court to order the administration to release the records.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday related to OSHA’s controversial electronic record-keeping rule.
The regulation, formally known as the Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses rule, requires employers with 250 or more employees and certain employers in high-risk industries with 20 or more employees to electronically submit their injury and illness data to OSHA. The agency, under the Obama administration, planned to make that data public, much to the chagrin of employers and their representatives who doubted OSHA’s ability to protect personal information.
“Now, though, OSHA is trying to weaken the rule by eliminating some of its provisions and OSHA has not made the summary injury and illness data public,” Public Citizen said in a statement Monday.
In October, November and December, Public Citizen submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the summary records submitted under the rule, which the organization said it intends to use to conduct research on workplace health and safety, according to the lawsuit.
However, OSHA denied Public Citizen’s October and November requests. The agency stated it identified 23,461 relevant records, but it claimed that they are exempt from FOIA because their release would “disclose OSHA’s techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations,” according to the lawsuit.
Public Citizen appealed, arguing that the records are not exempt from FOIA because they were not compiled for law enforcement purposes, the release of the records would not disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, and disclosure of the records could not reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law, according to the lawsuit.
OSHA has not responded to the appeal or to Public Citizen’s December FOIA request, according to Public Citizen.
“When OSHA issued the final rule in 2016, it said that it would publicly disclose these records to encourage safety,” Sean Sherman, the Public Citizen attorney who filed the lawsuit, said in a statement Friday. “For OSHA to now claim that releasing these same records could somehow compromise law enforcement is absurd.”
The lawsuit asks the court to find that the agencies’ failure to provide the requested records is unlawful and to order the agencies to provide the records.
An OSHA spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.
Business associations remain concerned that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration will inadvertently release employees' personal information when they create a public database for employer injury and illness reports, despite the agency's vow to protect the information.