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.