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Right now, companies have to keep track of workers' injuries on the job or face penalties. But Congress could make it almost impossible for the government to enforce that requirement. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports the Senate could vote as soon as this week.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Congress has the power to review and cancel regulations issued in the last days of an outgoing administration, and one that's caught the eye of lawmakers comes from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Since 1971, it's required lots of employers to keep careful records of any worker injuries or illnesses.
DAVID MICHAELS: Everything from steel mills to poultry processing plants.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's David Michaels, the former head of OSHA who's now at George Washington University School of Public Health. He says companies must keep injury records for five years. And this isn't pointless paperwork.
MICHAELS: The only way employers and workers understand what's going on in the workplace and why workers are being hurt is by looking at the log and by investigating the injuries that occurred.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: If employers' logs are inaccurate or fake, they can be fined. But in 2012, there was a big change that made it a lot harder to punish companies for bad logs. A court ruled that if someone got injured, maybe burned or cut, and that injury didn't make it into the log, the government has only six months to check the log and issue a fine. Michaels says there just aren't enough safety inspectors to catch problems so fast.
MICHAELS: Enforcement actions around record keeping are way down. And the big cases that OSHA used to have where they could issue fines because an employer had not recorded dozens of injuries - they've essentially disappeared.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So the Obama administration wrote up a new regulation to basically put things back the way they'd been before the court ruling. That was finalized late last year. Now industry groups want Congress to ditch it. Marc Freedman is with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
MARC FREEDMAN: The regulation was trying to do something that OSHA didn't have the authority to do.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The House has already voted to do away with this. Soon the Senate will vote. Rosario Palmieri is with the National Association of Manufacturers. He says dumping this regulation will help businesses.
ROSARIO PALMIERI: That have had the uncertainty hanging over their head about whether they could be cited for record-keeping issues from many, many years ago.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: But if Congress kills this, some advocates for workers say that accurate record keeping on injuries will effectively become voluntary.
PEG SEMINARIO: There won't be any ability to make sure that injury and illness records are accurate.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Peg Seminario is with the AFL-CIO, which represents more than 50 labor unions.
SEMINARIO: Employers will have, you know, license, and they'll know that they can falsify their records and not be held accountable.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: And she says that will make it harder to find and fix problems that hurt people at work. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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