Acting on new marching orders from the Trump Administration, federal OSHA seems to be scaling back some regulations to benefit employers.
Significantly, it seems that large employers will not be required to start submitting their injury and illness reports electronically as required by Obama-era regulations that were to take effect in February.
The idea was that these electronic filings would become public information easily accessed online, as part of Obama’s push to publically shame companies with poor workplace safety records.
Under current regulations, establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the record-keeping regulation must submit information from their 2016 Form 300A electronically by July 1, 2017.
As recently as early January, OSHA said on its website that it expected the site to be live in February. But in recent weeks, the agency changed the wording and it now states that: “OSHA is not accepting electronic submissions at this time.”
It’s unlikely that the electronic reporting will go forward under Trump, and that will also likely mean that companies won’t have their records posted online.
Another Obama rule, issued in December, is also likely to never see the light of day. That regulation gives OSHA the authority to cite companies failing to properly record workplace injuries up to five-and-a-half years after an alleged violation.
For years, OSHA had taken the position that it had up to five-and-a-half years after an alleged violation to issue a citation for record-keeping infractions.
But a court in 2012 found that OSHA’s interpretation was inconsistent with what the court called the “clear” wording of the law, which gave the agency only six months to bring charges.
In response to that ruling, the Obama administration promulgated new regulations circumventing the court decision and restoring the five-and-a-half-year period. Legislation overturning Obama’s rule has already been passed by both houses of Congress and Trump is expected to sign it. When he does, the six-month rule would stand.
Downside for honest firms
The problem for honest employers in this is that six months does not give OSHA enough time to detect record-keeping violations and bring subsequent charges. Also, if an inspector finds during an inspection that a company has been flouting the law and not filing its records for years, OSHA would be unable to cite the business.
Unfortunately, this could create an unlevel playing field, as responsible companies comply with record-keeping rules, while companies that take shortcuts won’t.
In a further step, OSHA announced in February that it would delay the implementation of a new rule aimed at reducing workplace exposure to beryllium, a widely used mineral linked to a deadly lung disease.
The rule was slated to take effect in March, but OSHA has delayed that until May at the earliest.
Employers can also expect a slowdown in new rule-making thanks to Trump’s executive order in January that agencies must cancel two regulations for every new one they make.
The new policy is expected to slow ongoing OSHA rule-making, such as an industry-backed effort to write regulations specifically for tree-trimming work and discourage the agency from pursing wide-ranging rules, such as revising limits for chemical exposures.