A Trump administration change in how OSHA enforcement actions are communicated continues to attract attention, and criticism, among some in the safety community.
Over the past four months, OSHA has published a small handful of enforcement-related press releases, despite having issued about 200 citations with penalties in excess of $40,000. Under the Obama administration, $40,000 was the dollar threshold that would trigger a press release. According to Jordan Barab, a former top OSHA official who now blogs about safety and health at Confined Space, there was hope that this policy would change once new labor secretary Alexander Acosta took office. But apparently, that has not happened.
Barab cites a recent Washington Post article that claims transparency has been under attack in the Trump administration. The account claims that, “The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy, efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.”
According to Barab, the shortage of press releases has resulted in a shortage of news accounts about OSHA citations in recent weeks. “With very little news about OSHA in the papers or on TV,” he notes, “companies that are inclined to cut corners on safety and health may feel that it’s even less likely they will ever see an OSHA inspector, and workers who feel threatened by safety conditions in their workplaces may feel like there’s no point in calling OSHA.”
Barab and other critics of the change consider press releases an important tool that helps a relatively small agency like OSHA discourage employers from cutting corners and, as a result, injuring or killing workers.