OSHA proposes greater employee involvement

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC, is proposing greater involvement by employees in federally funded safety and health consultation visits to work sites, including posting the results of the visits.

State agencies, with funding from OSHA, run on-site consultation programs which make available, at no cost to the requesting employer, trained safety and health personnel to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA regulations and standards, and assist in establishing safety and health programs. Smaller employers (no more than 250 employees at the site or no more than 500 nationwide) in more hazardous industries get priority in scheduling visits.

OSHA is proposing revisions to the rules governing consultation visits and requests comments on or before Sept. 30, 1999.

"Active employee participation will strengthen the efforts to provide better safety and health protections," said Charles Jeffress, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, in a recent announcement. "Employees often have firsthand knowledge of hazards in the workplace. They are able to make valuable suggestions that can assist in carrying out the consultant’s recommendations for eliminating the hazards, as well as improving the employer’s ongoing safety and health efforts."

The consultation visits are a very important and successful part of OSHA’s program to provide workplace safety and health, he said. Last year, the consultants made visits to 24,000 work sites and found 145,000 hazards that were corrected.

Some of the provisions OSHA proposes include:

-Authorized employees have the right to accompany the consultant during the physical inspection of the workplace. Where there is no authorized representative, or one cannot be determined, the consultant is to speak with a reasonable number of employees on matters concerning workplace safety and health. Authorized representatives also will be given the opportunity to participate in opening and closing conferences with the consultant (either separately or jointly with the employer).

-The employer will post a list of the serious hazards and other hazards addressed by OSHA rules that are identified by the consultant, the corrective action proposed, and the dates for completion of the corrective action. This list, to be furnished by the consultant, will be posted in a prominent place readily observable by all affected employees for three days or until the hazards are corrected, whichever is later. A copy of the posted list will be furnished to the authorized representative who participated in the consultation.

The full text of the consultant’s written report will remain confidential and, except in unusual circumstances, cannot be disclosed to others without the employer’s consent.

-OSHA retains the right to use the consultant’s report in appropriate enforcement proceedings. Situations where a consultant’s report might become relevant include an enforcement action triggered by an employer’s refusal to correct serious hazards identified by a consultant, or an investigation of false statements, or deliberately concealed hazards. Consultants’ reports have been used only in extremely rare circumstances, probably not more than half a dozen times in the last 10 years, and typically in serious accidents where there were allegations of employer bad faith.

Other proposed revisions involve clarifying the relationship between consultation and enforcement. OSHA regulations provide for a one-year exemption from programmed inspections for employers who complete a consultation visit and meet certain requirements, including correcting all hazards and demonstrating that all elements of a safety and health program are in place.