In Honor of Sunshine Week: A FOIA to OSHA

It’s national Sunshine Week—an effort “to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.”   A great way to celebrate the public’s right-to-know what its government is doing, is by sending a FOIA request to your favorite local, state or federal agency.  In that spirit, I faxed a FOIA request to OSHA today. 

My request stems from an exchange of comments on work-related motor vehicle fatalities following my March 7 post “When the Road is Your Workplace”.  I learned that the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (RICOSH) had actually petitioned OSHA in 2002 for a motor vehicle and traffic safety rule.  It made me wonder, how many other worker-safety advocates have petitioned OSHA in recent years to address occupational hazards? 

Petitions received by OSHA and MSHA aren’t published in the Federal Register or posted in a public docket.  There is no easily, accessible and publicly available list of requests sent to the Department of Labor (like the RICOSH one mentioned above), asking for rulemaking on occupational health or safety hazards.  Unlike other agencies, petitions to OSHA and MSHA seem to fall into oblivion.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for example, has written procedures for handling petitions from the public for enforcement action, including posting them in the Federal Register.  Even the Small Business Administration’s “hit list” of regulations nominated by trade associations for “reform” are published. 

Although OSHA and MSHA have the discretion to deny such petitions, it seems like a publicly available list would serve a useful oversight purpose.  Might there be sentinel events brought to OSHA’s attention from a concerned worker, manager, or widow, about which the larger public health community should know?  Might we find out that individuals or organizations have given up on the petition process because a DENIED letter is expected?  Might a more transparent petition process inject some energy in the OHS community?  

My FOIA today to OSHA asked for any letters, emails or other records received by OSHA since January 1998 in which the requester asked the agency to promulgate a health or safety standard to address a particular hazard.  I also asked for a copy of OSHA’s response to each request.  They have 20 days to determine whether to comply with my request and to notify me promptly of their determination.  You’ll be the first to know when I hear back from OSHA.

Comments

  1. #1 Martha
    March 29, 2008

    It’s time the workers started requesting public disclosure. The process is easy and well mapped out. Our group has been doing this for a year and we have unearthed specific details in managers’ performance files about workplace bullying in washington state. Other states may wish to clone our process or start their own. We need to finally put to death the hideous practice of targeting good employees for expulsion or mistreatment, because they have exercised their rights or reported hazards. One of these subclinical sociopaths can cost you your career, livelihood and health. It’s also extremely stigmatizing and can cost you your mental health too. Emails welcome
    stopthebullies (at) comcast (dot) net.

  2. #2 Jayson Turner
    November 16, 2009

    After 10 years service, and conscientious reporting of Safety problems, my Surface Mine Operator XXXXX (Xxxxxxxx Xxxxxx) wrongfully terminated me. I rightfully claimed 105C DISCRIMINATION. After my complaint was determined to be non-frivolous, MSHA West Special Investigator XXXX wrongly ruled my case as unfounded. I FOIA requested statements recorded by XXXX to support my appeal of her decision to F.M.S.H.R.C.
    MSHA Western District refused to give me the recorded Statements of the Operator’s Safety Manager XXX and important others (REDACTED). I am once again FOIA requesting that information from MSHA, this time to support my petition for Review of F.M.S.H.R.C. A.L.J. XXXXX’s wrong determination of my 105C Discrimination case. MSHA has a few more days to respond, FMSHRC already has partially complied with my FOIA requested copies of my various denied requests for the compelling of discovery and for the issuing of sanctions against the Operator for not complying with my proper & rightful requests for Discovery from the A.LJ.. F.M.S.H.R.C. has a useful policy where all the A.L.J.’s Conference Calls (very instrumental for A.L.J. and Operator) are not recorded nor is there any provision for transcripts of those conversations. Will the individuals responsible for carrying out Miner requested Investigation, 105C & FOIA provisions do the right thing?
    The possibility of any fair remedy or even a fair judgment (in principle) by the dignitaries in MSHA & the A.L.J. Office is remote. Look at the records (if you can find them). There are no lawyers willing to help Miners due to the ridiculously poor Remedy the 105C Discriminated Miner can hope for. The Operators get away with Delay and Deny tactics, in their response to 105C Discrimination Investigations, because they know neither MSHA or the A.L.J. will seriously pursue Miners’ rights. I have a righteous case & am glad to share particulars of it with anyone interested. Thank you for your interest; Jayson Turner

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