A former Obama administration labor official last month vowed to disclose major penalties for workplace safety violations after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ceased publishing that information in January.
Jordan Barab, who served as deputy assistant secretary of labor — or the second-in-command at OSHA — from 2009 through 2017, wrote in his Confined Space online newsletter that press releases regarding large citations helped provide additional "leverage" to an agency that could never hope to inspect all the nation's workplaces.
Barab wrote that although the Obama administration lowered the threshold for issuing a statement and often added more detail to its announcements, the Bush administration also published similar press releases.
"Instead of a citation just affecting the company that was cited, a strong press release will impact other companies in the same geographic area, as well as companies in the same industry," Barab wrote.
OSHA, however, published its last press release regarding an enforcement action on Jan. 18 — just before President Donald Trump took office.
Previous reports suggested that OSHA would see an unusual amount of attention from a new administration due to Trump's run-ins with the agency as a developer. Industry groups and some Republicans, Barab added, believed that OSHA's press releases only served to "shame" employers.
Barab countered that the announcements were an effective deterrent, and in response to OSHA's relative silence, he began listing dozens of penalties on his website.
"Industry attorneys repeatedly told me and [then-OSHA chief David Michaels] over the past several years that their clients don’t really care about the low fines that OSHA issues," Barab wrote. "What terrifies them is being mentioned in a press release."