A judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Amazon.com Inc.’s injury data is not confidential information.
The Center for Investigative Reporting, a journalism nonprofit based in Berkeley, California, filed Freedom of Information Act requests between with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, seeking annual data on Amazon’s injuries, illnesses and fatalities at certain warehouses.
OSHA requires employers with more than 10 workers to annually submit data on workplace injuries and illnesses using its Form 300. The log includes the name and title of workers who are injured or contract an occupational illness, along with a description of the injury or illness, and the result of the injury or illness. Employers are required to provide copies of these records to current and former employees and their representatives upon request, and employers must retain the records for five years.
OSHA’s final rule on record keeping also stipulates that an “employer may not require an employee, former employee or designated employee representative to agree to limit the use of the records as a condition for viewing or obtaining copies of records.”
Although OSHA noted in 2016 that public access of this data could encourage employers to abate hazards and prevent injuries and illnesses, in August 2019, OSHA stated that it considered the Form 300 data to be confidential commercial information.
The DOL argued that the Form 300 logs fall under the FOIA exemption that shields from mandatory disclosure any “commercial or financial information obtained from a person.”
Judge Kim, however, disagreed in her 28 page July 6, 2020 Order, holding that Amazon itself had not customarily treated its Form 300 data as confidential, and noted that OSHA regulations require employers, including Amazon, to post such information at its facilities for a three-month period.
Although the DOL also argued that the data could be “misused,” Judge Kim dismissed this argument, noting that employees’ personal and medical information does not appear on the form, and that Amazon’s broad disclosures required under the regulations to all current employees, former employees, and employees’ representatives – with no restrictions on their further disclosures – defeats the DOL’s effort to demonstrate confidentiality.
Kim’s ruling comes just one month after another federal judge in Oakland, California, ruled against the Department of Labor in a similar lawsuit brought by the Center for Investigative Reporting. In that case, U.S. District Judge Donna Ryu ordered the department to release 237,000 workplace injury logs submitted by various employers from Aug. 1, 2017, through Feb. 6, 2018. Like Kim, Ryu also found the companies were already warned the information could be posted on a public website in 2016.