Workplace Safety Records Not Exempt Under FOIA Law

In July of this year, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that workplace safety records, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Form 300As, or “summaries of work-related injuries and illnesses,” are not exempt from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

According to the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy, FOIA Exemption 4 protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential.” In the lawsuit The Center for Investigative Reporting v. United States Department of Labor (3:19-cv-05603-SK), the Center sought Amazon records on workplace safety from OSHA, including inspection files and Form 300As. OSHA disputed the request for unredacted Form 300As, citing FOIA Exemption 4.

OSHA Form 300As are required by federal law to be submitted yearly by employers. To the end of workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 authorizes the Department of Labor to “set mandatory occupational safety and health standards applicable to businesses affecting interstate commerce,” including yearly reports. Any employer operating in the U.S. with more than 10 employees must comply with these regulations.

Within the Form 300A, employers are required to provide summaries of “(1) deaths; (2) cases with days away from work; (3) cases with job transfer or restriction; (4) other recordable cases; (5) days away from work; and (6) days of job transfer or restriction,” the number of injuries and illnesses by category, and employer information including “company name, address, industry description, annual average number of employees, and total hours worked by all employees in the last year.” However, the Form 300A does not require identifying information about individual employees.

The question as to whether this information was confidential as designated by Amazon was resolved when the court found that because employers are required by OSHA law to release unredacted Form 300A logs to employees by request, such documentation could not be considered confidential business information. Additionally, in 2016 OSHA planned to release Form 300A data publicly to their website. Their stance on this matter changed in 2019 after a separate ruling on confidential information.

The District Court ruling is a win for employees and watchdog groups looking to hold companies accountable for truthful disclosure of workplace safety records to the federal government. Transparency also ensures that employers maintain workplace safety standards by evaluating the safety of the workplace year-to-year.

AINS is dedicated to helping workplaces manage their records in a secure, efficient, and transparent manner. Our human resources app for workers’ compensation, eCase Workers’ Compensation, automates the processing of Form 300A and other required forms. The app, which was recently acquired by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, uses online processing and case tracking to efficiently process standard federal workers’ compensation forms for sickness and injury, accelerate claims processing times, and more.

If you wish to empower your organization through the digital automation of workers’ compensation and other HR processes, please email info@ains.com or request a demo today.