Opinion: We shouldn't hide workplace injuries

Gary Jones

Election results are in and as is the case after every Election Day change is afoot in Lansing and Washington as voters sent a loud message earlier this month that they expect results for working families on jobs, job security and job safety.

Far beyond the headlines of big picture election consequences is the very real impact of what the election means in our everyday working lives.

Jones writes: "Data is critical for analyzing accidents, which facilitates negotiations for adequate safety provisions in labor contracts."

Take for instance the simple case of tracking workplace injuries for large manufacturers with 250 employees or more.

With a simple stroke of the keyboard a federal agency has rewritten a rule to repeal injury reporting requirements by large employers with 250 or more employees. The provision would allow unscrupulous employers to hide workplace injuries and hinder employees and government agencies from efforts to identify and prevent workplace injuries.

Data collection is a key factor for scientific studies that can lead to safer workplaces. Data is critical for analyzing accidents and injuries, which facilitates negotiations for adequate safety provisions in labor contracts. Joint labor/management safety committees document injury rates between and among facilities to create benchmark data for manufacturer's safety programs.

Conclusions can range from identifying tasks leading to stress-related injuries to comprehensive ergonomics training to identifying physical challenges and changing the way tasks are executed.

Ironically, in many nonunion workplaces, employees feel a chilling effect when asking for federal agency injury logs for fear that management may retaliate against conducting these studies. That’s why the UAW has long held that injury logs should be publicly available for employees, unions and researchers to review historic injury rates and facilitate working with management to prevent workplace injury and increase efficiency of production.

To make matters worse, an anti-labor, pro-big corporation-influenced Congress also passed a law to eliminate a company’s requirement to keep workplace injury records.

The UAW strongly opposed these additional changes to record-keeping and pointed out to federal agencies that the importance of this data creates safer workplaces, reduces lost-workday cases and has led to successful ergonomic programs.

The collection of data has allowed workers to secure safety enhancements including ergonomic processes, hearing conservation programs, fatality prevention programs and chemical control programs which protect not just employees, but whole communities.

In fact, in most UAW plants, a joint labor/management safety committee works together to look at data, resolve issues and protect workers from the lost opportunity costs companies experience when employees are injured.

Elections do matter beyond the headlines. Too often we get caught up in wedge issues, ads and commercials online and in the airwaves that distract from the real damage anti-worker agendas can have on our everyday lives.

Why on earth would anyone think that collecting and sharing injury data to help prevent more injuries should be gutted? Elected leaders have a responsibility to protect working Americans, not hide their workplace injury data from scientific analysis and workplace protections.

When workers kiss their families’ goodbye in the morning, they should be confident they will come home unharmed. Government regulations have played a major role in exposing ways to protect workers which are key to their safety on the job. Let’s hope this incoming Congress will roll back these misguided changes and return to protecting our working families. We need to restore transparency to workplace safety records.

Gary Jones is president of UAW International Union.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.