An email is making the rounds in the Department of Labor and OSHA saying that President Obama’s Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh P. Chopra applauded OSHA for the worker fatality snippets now posted on its homepage.  The email reads:

“During the Government Consumer Electronics Show, OSHA received Kudos from CTO Chopra for the Workplace Fatality reports.  He mentioned them during his briefing on and transparent government.”

I guess Mr. Chopra is giving OSHA a stick-on gold star for “most improved,” but its new website feature with fatality notifications is hardly a model of….. anything.  

It wasn’t until October 2009 that worker death information became prominent on OSHA’s website.  At the time, I credited OSHA for taking the simple step of acknowledging that workers die every day in this country, in horrendous and often preventable ways. 

Despite what Mr. Chopra allegedly said, OSHA’s new Weekly Report of Fatalities is not a model of transparency and OSHA has a long way to go to make its data accessible.  It makes me wonder how Mr. Chopra learned about this OSHA “enhancement.”  I bet it wasn’t from one of us who actually try to use OSHA’s website to track inspections and investigations.   I suspect it was someone from inside DOL–some senior public affairs type trying to impress the White House—who made a pitch for a OSHA-specific line in Mr. Chopra’s speech for the Consumer Electronics Show

It wouldn’t take someone too long to figure out that OSHA Weekly Report of Fatalities feature does not cause your jaw to drop or your eyes to light up when you use it.  Frankly, it doesn’t even deliver what it promises.  One of the report headers (which have changed over the months, so you don’t know which one to believe) says:

“once OSHA’s investigation is complete, these reports will be updated with inspection results and citation information.” 

Some of the oldest Weekly Reports posted include incidents for which the federal- or State- OSHA investigation should be complete (i.e., 6 months statute of limitations,) but there’s no information on the disposition of the case, as promised.   One could try to resort to the dreaded “Establishment Search” tool [at least I dread it] but these “event numbers” will do you know good.  You need the “inspection number,” and those don’t appear on these Weekly Reports of Fatalities.   Why anyone thought that this system was worth mentioning in any Obama Administration speech is a mystery to me.

I was going to suggest that MSHA’s web-based fatality information is closer to a model of openness, with its prompt description of fatal-injury incidents, subsequent links to the investigation report, and a site-specific identification number to assess previous and future enforcement activity.  I noticed however that MSHA has yet to post preliminary fatality incident information (its so-called Fatalgrams) for worker deaths that occurred on Dec 12, Dec 16 and Jan 9.   Despite this tardiness, MSHA gets higher marks from me for its “old” fatality disclosure system than OSHA’s “new” feature.   In my opinion, access to data on OSHA’s site has a long way to go before it deserves kudos.