Restoring Volks Rule Will Create Safer Workplaces, Save Lives

In a critical effort to restore recently destroyed protections for workers, a group of lawmakers has introduced the Accurate Workplace Injury and Illness Records Restoration Act to deal with the problem of preventable injuries. This bill would restore the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “Volks” Rule and reaffirm the agency’s authority to enforce workplace injury and illness recordkeeping requirements for employers nationwide.

There is some contentious history behind this bill. Last year, OSHA issued a rule to clarify an employer’s ongoing obligation to maintain records of an occupational injury or illness for five years. The rule did not create any new obligations for employers. OSHA had been holding employers accountable to this standard for the past 40 years. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned this decades-long precedent in the 2012 case AKM LLC (Volks) v. Secretary of Labor. The case greatly restricted OSHA’s ability to fine employers that failed to keep accurate records. OSHA then issued a rule in response to clarify its own longstanding procedures in advance of any other courts reviewing its recordkeeping statutes.

But President Donald Trump signed a bill (H.J. Res 83) repealing the rule using an obscure law — the Congressional Review Act. Even worse, the CRA prohibits OSHA from issuing a new rule that is “substantially the same” as the one repealed unless Congress passes a new law calling for it. That’s where the Accurate Workplace Injury and Illness Records Restoration Act comes into play. If passed, this legislation would restore the Volks Rule and reaffirm OSHA’s authority to fine employers if they do not keep accurate records of worker injuries.

While Trump claims to be a supporter of working people, he and Republicans in Congress have endangered workers’ lives by rolling back this rule. By using the CRA to take away OSHA’s ability to sanction employers in dangerous industries, Republicans are allowing employers to hide injuries and illnesses, falsify records and willfully violate the law without any accountability. This represents a fundamental betrayal of candidate Trump’s promises, and working families will be among those with the most to lose.

Restoring this rule would help protect workers from preventable workplace injuries and illnesses — a laudable goal that should be shared by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Recently, Trump stated, “Every regulation should have to pass a simple test: Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers? If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it and getting rid of it quickly.”

OSHA’s Volks Rule passes this test. Maintaining accurate injury and illness records is vital for protecting workers from dangerous conditions on the job. By inspecting accurate data from employer records, OSHA can use its limited resources to identify and target the hazards putting workers at the greatest risk. Likewise, employers can use the records to proactively keep their own work sites safe. If employers do not keep accurate injury logs, working people will continue to suffer preventable fatalities and injuries on the job.

Workers are tired of Trump’s broken promises. Instead of championing the goals of corporate lobbyists, Trump and Republicans should give OSHA the resources it needs to do its job. OSHA’s ability to hold employers accountable will create safer workplaces and save lives.

Emily A. Gardner, J.D., is the workplace health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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