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Freedom of Information (FOI)

Definition - What does Freedom of Information (FOI) mean?

Freedom of Information (FOI) is a concept that broadly refers to the principle that individuals and the public at-large have the right to access information that is pertinent to their interests.

The United Nations recognizes freedom of information as a fundamental human right. The UN argues that FOI ensures that governments can be held accountable by enforcing institutional transparency, and as such, it is necessary for the maintenance of the Rule of Law within a jurisdiction.

Safeopedia explains Freedom of Information (FOI)

A major principle of FOI regulations and practices is the facilitation of public access to information about occupational health and safety issues that are held by the government. Individuals are often recognized as having special rights to access government-held information about themselves.

In the United States, OSHA and other occupational health and safety agencies are governed by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is governed by the Freedom of Information Act, the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), and the Data Protection Act (DPA). Under these acts, the public may request specific documents held by the relevant agency, such as documents that outline the findings of an investigation into employer wrongdoing. This type of legislation is referred to as “Access to Information” legislation.

OSHA maintains an Internet-accessible database of documents, which makes information available that has either been frequently requested under FOIA or which it deems likely to become regularly requested in the future. For instance, OSHA provides access to documents that summarize the agency’s finding that a corporation improperly retaliated against an employee who made a health and safety complaint. Other available information includes documents such as internal agency directives and letters of regulatory interpretation sent to various businesses and other interested parties.

The principle of freedom of information is closely related to the “right to know” principle. In occupational health and safety terms, "right to know" provides employees with the right to know and understand what chemicals and other hazards they may be exposed to within the workplace. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard is an example of a "right to know" regulation that guarantees that employees have access to information about hazardous substances used in the workplace.

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