Former OSHA Deputy Publicizes Workplace Citations

April 10th, 2017 by Trey Barrineau

If you’re wondering where those strongly worded press releases announcing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations have gone since January 20, you’re not alone. In the wake of President Trump’s inauguration, OSHA hasn’t issued a single press release about a severe violation — in fact, the last one was posted on January 18.

However, one man is taking it on himself to get the word out about workplace safety citations.

Jordan Barab, a former deputy assistant secretary at OSHA,  is publishing information about violations on his blog, Confined Spaces.

“Although the Obama administration did not invent the enforcement press release, business associations and some Republicans in Congress have vilified OSHA press releases  for allegedly ‘shaming’ employers,” Barab wrote in post dated March 21. “In fact, the only changes OSHA made in press release policy after the Bush administration was to increase the number of press releases (by reducing the penalty threshold to $40,000), and, over the years, adding additional narrative, describing the incident in more detail and what could have been done to prevent it. For some larger cases, we also added the Workers Compensation carrier.”

Barab said he’s doing this because the current administration isn’t, and also because OSHA can’t possibly inspect every workplace.

“OSHA is a small agency — around 2,000 inspectors (in federal states and state plans) to oversee around 8 million workplaces,” he writes. “Clearly, OSHA can’t visit more than a tiny number of workplaces each year. In fact, the AFL-CIO estimates that if OSHA were to visit every workplace once, it would take them 145 years.”

From his perspective, negative publicity serves a vital enforcement purpose at a relatively low cost.

“Press releases — publicizing OSHA enforcement actions — help leverage OSHA resources,” he writes. “Instead of a citation just affecting the company that was cited,  a strong press release will impact other companies in the same geographic area, as well as companies in the same industry. Industry attorneys repeatedly told me … over the past several years that their clients don’t really care about the low fines that OSHA issues; what terrifies them is being mentioned in a press release. The attorneys’ universal response: ‘Well then, make sure your workplace is safe.’ ”

In addition to posts that repackage publicly available information on large-scale violations from OSHA, Barab also rounds up information about workplace injuries and deaths from media reports. And the site definitely has a point of view: In a post from last week titled “‘Horrible’ pictures of suffering moved Trump to action on Syria” How about horrible pictures here at home?, Barab contrasts the president’s statement about a poison gas attack in Syria with photos of workplace injuries and deaths that have appeared in news outlets across the country.

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