During his presidential campaign, President Trump promised to bring change to Washington. Hardly one hundred days into his administration, he has made good on his promise; however the change he’s poised to enact has potential to make workers less safe and employers less accountable.
As of March 22, the U.S. Senate passed legislation (50-48, along party-lines) to reverse two promising OSHA regulations passed in the last weeks of President’s Obama’s tenure. According to the National Law Review, the legislation would nullify the “Volks rule,” a regulation that extends the time period of OSHA to cite and penalize employers for failing to report workplace injuries and illnesses. This disclosure of injuries and illnesses provides an additional layer of workplace accountability and contributes to a national collection of data regarding workplace safety violations.
The Washington Post reports that the recent “Volks rule” was OSHA’s response to a 2012 D.C. Court of Appeals decision (Volks Constructors v. Secretary of Labor), which limited the agency’s power to issue citations for violations, essentially enforcing citation collection only from violations that occurred within the last six months. Prior to Appeals decision, the agency collected citations for infractions going back as far as five years. President Obama’s “Volk’s rule” legislation, implemented in January 2017, aimed to increase transparency within many industries in which employers compete for job bids and must disclose statistics of workplace injury and death.
By increasing the time period for which data was collected and penalized, surveyors could gain a more complete picture of general trends that employers pursued in ensuring workplace safety. This information is essential in assessing whether employers are making strident efforts to create and maintain workplaces that respect the safety and security of employees. Moreover, these disclosures can pressure employers to improve on job safety and encourages intra-industry competition to create safer work environments.
Rolling back the “Volks rule” can disadvantage employers that disclose figures of workplace injury in the job bidding process wherein competitors will likely disclose only the required six months. By abolishing these protections, the “Volks rule” can create a race to the bottom, wherein employers willing to operate in good faith by disclosing a period longer than six month of workplace safety statistics will defer from doing so because their competitors will not.
Arguing that the “Volks rule” created undue paperwork and constituted excessive regulation, the Republican-led majority passed the legislation to appease business at the detriment of workers and the transparency of the government, making OSHA’s already challenging tasks even more daunting.