The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (searchmust disclose injury and illness rates for employers with the worst safety records, a federal judge has ruled.

The decision Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in New York was in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed in October 2002 by The New York Times.

The newspaper sought injury and illness rates for 13,000 companies that received notification from OSHA of exceptionally high rates.

OSHA, a Labor Department (searchagency, argued the data was confidential because otherwise, competitors could calculate how many hours employees worked, based on the rate, which included lost work days.

The agency also argued that the newspaper could go to OSHA's Web site to obtain the names and addresses of the 13,000 companies with high injury rates and then obtain the rates from the employers.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin rejected that argument, saying in the ruling that "the court's clerks expended considerable time searching OSHA's Web site for these names and addresses, but were unable to locate them. This is likely because OSHA's Web site is extraordinarily difficult to navigate."

The Labor Department, in denying The Times request, said it would have to get permission from all 13,000 employers before releasing the data. That would be too burdensome because it would require 30,290 staff hours or about 15 years to respond.

The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize this year for its investigations of workplace deaths and the "culture of bureaucratic reluctance" at OSHA.