US Department of Labor
As part of the broader Open Government initiatives of the Obama administration, various agencies of the US Department of Labor (DOL) have expanded direct public access to their inspection and enforcement data, which are posted on a comprehensive Web site.21 The data underlying the site arise primarily from the enforcement activities of the agencies. Each agency offers different types of information and levels of detail to the public, which reflect differences in agency mission, nature of the regulatory process, sophistication of data collection, and administrative processes, such as case-review procedures.22 The agencies provide a variety of information, including details about the inspected entity (such as industry, firm and establishment size, and single-plant vs. multiplant status), characteristics (such as time spent and type of inspection activity) and outcomes of the investigation (such as standards violated, severity of violations, and penalties assessed), and related administrative processes (appeals and their results). Accordingly, the data on the site are primarily in Category 1.
The site is regularly expanded and improved. Prior updates have focused on making it easier for users to search by common criteria, such as company name or industry grouping. That potentially provides information about the compliance behavior of a specific employer or industry for a range of workplace laws. DOL is planning a number of future updates to increase usability, including display of data through maps and interactive “dashboards” and engaging public users of the data in finding “innovative ways of using DOL’s enforcement data to promote worker’s safety and protect worker’s rights”.23
In addition to the information on the comprehensive DOL Web site, some of the individual agencies in DOL post detailed facility-specific safety data. For purposes of illustration, we focus here on the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MSHA is responsible for the enforcement of health and safety standards for underground and surface metal and nonmetal mines. Compliance with detailed health and safety requirements is determined through physical inspection of mining facilities, interviews with mine operators and with workers and their representatives (in unionized mines), and review of administrative information. Inspectors also sample dust and air.
The most extensive mine-level data available to the public are published on the MSHA Web site.24 Those data originate in the electronic information systems maintained by the agency. The data are stored in 16 linked databases that provide information on inspections, citations, penalties, and abatement requirements. The site also provides mine-level data on fatalities and
22With respect to the latter dimension, agencies vary according to when the results of completed inspections and investigations are publicly posted. The Wage and Hour Division posts only cases that are considered “closed” (for example, all appeals of the investigators’ findings have been resolved). In contrast, the Mine Safety and Health Administration posts inspection data even when a mine operator or other party is appealing parts of a decision, such as penalties.