Big retail chains like Walmart fight being held accountable for injuries to workers

Laura ClawsonThe federal government is trying to do a better job tracking workplace injuries, which would make it easier for workers to show that they were injured on the job and get some compensation. But—of course—industry lobby groups are fighting hard to prevent accountability.

Currently, manufacturing companies are required to tell the government about injuries workers suffer on the job. But employers in other industries don’t have to report those injuries, which makes it easier for them to claim they’re not responsible. If workers can’t show that there’s a pattern of, say, tendinitis in a specific workplace, they’re more likely to lose injury claims against the boss. After all, any one person can get tendinitis for all sorts of reasons. But if there’s information on how many people have injuries in that workplace, workers might be able to point to patterns that would show that their own injuries aren’t random chance or due to something they did outside working hours.

Under a planned rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, companies with more than 250 workers and smaller companies in particularly dangerous industries:

“… would be required to submit data including the job title of the employee, the type of injury, where it occurred, what the worker was doing before the incident, and the number of workdays the employee had to miss as a result. With the information, OSHA and employers ‘will be better able to … abate workplace hazards,’ an OSHA spokeswoman said in an email.”

It’s information employers are already required to keep records of. All that would change would be that they would submit it to the government four times a year. Not a huge expense or effort, you’d think. But:

“The National Retail Federation—a group that represents Walmart, McDonald’s, and The Container Store—spent $2.4 million lobbying on this measure and other issues between January and September of last year. In a letter to OSHA last March, the group complained that the rule would require disclosure of confidential information, lay blame on employers for non-work-related injuries, be too costly, and empower unions. Last year, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which counts Walmart, Target, and Home Depot among its more than 200 members, also urged the agency to kill the rule. The US Chamber of Commerce spent more than $28 million between July and September of last year on lobbying—including on this regulation, which the Chamber says is more burdensome on industry than OSHA will admit. And the Coalition for Workplace Safety, an association of trade groups that includes the Chamber, the NRF, and NILA, has asked OSHA to scrap the rule.”

“Require disclosure of confidential information”—that’s the same information that the manufacturing industry has long been required to disclose—”lay blame on employers for non-work-related injuries”—or, you know, keep employers from being able to lawyer their way out of being held responsible for work-related injuries—”be too costly”—sure, if the company had been escaping responsibility for a lot of work-related injuries that it’s suddenly held accountable for—”and empower unions”—by providing information about whether the employer is harming its workers. In other words, “it’s convenient and cheap for us to avoid accountability for workplace injuries, and we would like that to continue.” And to be fair, they probably do have something to fear. Even without this reporting requirement, for example, Walmart has faced serious fines for workplace safety violations. Imagine if that information was all in one place for the government, workers, and reporters to see.

This blog originally appeared in on January 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa est étudiante en troisième année de licence à la faculté de droit de l'université de Syracuse. Elle est diplômée en journalisme de Penn State. Grâce à ses recherches juridiques et à ses écrits pour Workplace Fairness, elle s'efforce de fournir aux gens les informations dont ils ont besoin pour être leur meilleur défenseur.