L&I ordered to air ergonomic data - Thurston judge tells
state agency to release full, uncensored records
Thurston County, WA - Thurston County Superior Judge Paula Casey
on Thursday ordered the Department of Labor and Industries to release
records that could indicate whether the agency played favorites by
exempting major firms like Wal-Mart from new state ergonomic rules.
Further, Casey ruled that the agency may not "redact" -- the process of blacking out private information -- major portions of the records, as the agency had indicated it would do.
The records in question provide details on how L&I handles its ergonomics cases.
The agency shares the documents with affected businesses and unions, but would not make them available to journalists and the Building Industry Association of Washington.
Casey goes further
Joined by Allied Daily Newspapers and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, the BIAW sued the agency for release of the records.
Casey had previously ordered the release of the records, but went further in Thursday's ruling by barring redaction of any information, except the names of private employees.
In making the ruling from the bench, Casey admonished L&I for its attempts to black out most pertinent information in the records.
"We got the records that we requested and the law is very clear that public records are indeed public," said Greg Overstreet, an attorney for the newspaper groups.
L&I's ergonomics rules concern standards of workplace safety at businesses around the state. The records give information about businesses that asked the agency to come in and evaluate them for compliance. Those businesses were initially promised confidentiality, said Steve Pierce, a spokesman for L&I.
BIAW went after the records as part of its lawsuit seeking to get the ergonomics standards tossed out in court.
"We're extremely pleased with the ruling," BIAW spokeswoman Erin Shannon said.
L&I will release the records by 5 p.m. Monday, as ordered, Pierce said. The agency is still considering an appeal to a higher court in the hopes of sealing future records, he said.
He predicted many businesses simply wouldn't ask for ergonomics consultations out of fear that the results "will end up on the front page of the newspaper," he said.
"What ends up suffering is the safety of workers."
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