Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013 | 9 p.m.
WASHINGTON — The Labor Department wants companies to begin filing all workplace injury and illness reports electronically so they are available for anyone in the public to see.
The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration will announce the plan on Thursday as part of a proposed rule that would dramatically change the way companies file safety records, according to a person familiar with the proposal.
The person requested anonymity so as not to get ahead of the formal announcement.
In a description of the rule, OSHA said a new electronic reporting system would help the government, workers, researchers and the public more effectively prevent workplace accidents and illnesses. The agency said the change also supports President Barack Obama's initiative to increase public access to government data.
The plan would apply only to companies with more than 250 employees.
While the proposal is expected to please labor and workplace safety groups, business groups are likely to oppose it. They say raw injury data can be misleading or contain sensitive information that can be misused.
Marc Freedman, executive director for labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the mere recording of an injury does not tell the full story about the circumstances surrounding it or whether the company has a good safety program.
"Making company-specific data on injuries available for all to see would be a major problem and would likely lead to companies being targeted by outside groups who want to characterize these employers as having bad safety records," Freedman said.
Under current rules, employers are required to post summaries of injury and illness reports in a common area where they can be seen by employees.
Some safety advocates have complained that OSHA fines are often not high enough to deter companies from having safer workplaces. But Congress has resisted calls to increase the agency's authority to impose greater fines. Public disclosure of accident reports could be another way for OSHA to increase pressure on companies to comply with safety rules.
The proposed rule is part of a flurry of activity at the Labor Department since Thomas Perez was confirmed to head the agency earlier this year. In August, OSHA announced plans to dramatically limit workplace exposure to silica dust.