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OSHA Moves to Expand
Worker Rights

UE News, July 1999

On July 2 the U.S. Labor Department proposed changes in OSHA standards to give workers new rights when their employers use federally-funded health and safety consultation services. Under this new proposal, whenever an employer calls in a consultant under these programs:

Workers or their representatives will have the right to accompany the consultant during the plant tour.

Employers will have to publicly post a list of the hazards found, the corrective actions proposed and the dates by which these actions must be completed.

Workers or their representatives will now participate in the opening and closing conferences with the consultant, and

The written report of the plant visit will be given to the workers or representatives who participated in the walk-through survey.

At present workers may only participate in such a consultation visit "to the extent desired by the employer." Employers are not required to post the consultant’s findings, or to share the written report with workers. Such provisions are an insult to working people. Also (no surprise!), workers and unions are usually not told what the consultants found.


Thus taxpayers’ money, including that of workers in the plant being inspected, is used to provide free health and safety services to employers. However, the workers in the plant are not allowed to see the report they paid for. The proposed changes in the Standard (CFR 1908, "Consultation Agreements") would end these practices.

In announcing these proposed changes on June 30, OSHA Administrative Charles N. Jeffress said workers have "first-hand knowledge of hazards in the workplace," and can offer valuable suggestions to abate these hazards.

All 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have employer consultation services. The proposed changes in the consultation program apply directly to the 44 states and two territories (Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) which have signed Cooperative Agreements with OSHA. The other six states (Arizona, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota and Vermont, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have separately funded programs which are "at least as effective" as those required of all other 44 states and two territories, and thus will be indirectly covered by the proposed changes.

Consultation programs have become a major part of OSHA operations since Congress first authorized them in 1974. Last year consultants visited 24,000 work sites across the U.S. and uncovered 145,000 hazards.


Unlike regular OSHA inspections, employer consultation programs are voluntary — that is, an employer must request them. If requested, the states will send health and safety professionals to the company who will conduct surveys of the company and suggest changes to make the workplace safer and healthier. There is no cost to the employer for these services — they are funded entirely by federal (90 percent) and state (10 percent) tax dollars — and the employers will not be cited or fined for OSHA violations uncovered.

The employer’s sole obligation under this program is to follow the recommendations made by the consultant, and thus eliminate or control the hazards. Only if the employer fails to eliminate or control the identified hazards can the consultant’s findings be referred to OSHA for possible OSHA inspection, citation, abatement and fines. As you might guess, this rarely ever happens.

Most of the consultation effort goes on without the knowledge or input of the workers affected, even though these efforts are completely funded by tax dollars. Thus consultation activities are run on a largely separate track from OSHA activities.

All regular federal and state OSHA activities require worker input and involvement. That is, on regular OSHA inspections, the inspector must seek out worker representatives to accompany him or her on the plant walk-through, must include that person or persons in a closing conference, and a list of any violations, fines and abatement dates must be posted. None of these are required for consultant visits, although OSHA routinely "recommends" them.


At present OSHA is seeking comments from all affected parties about its proposal. Comments may be submitted by Sept. 30, 1999. For further information or questions, contact Ms. Bonnie Friedman, Director, Office of Information and Consumer Affairs, OSHA, Room N-3647, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210; (202) 693-1999. Following the comment period, public hearings will be held, and then a Final Rule announced.

Note: The full text of the proposed changes, plus much other useful information, can be found on OSHA’s website at (For example, look up the proposed changes in Standard 1908 under "Regulations," then "Federal Register" for date July 2, 1999 under "Consultation Agreements.")

Also at this website, you can look up your company’s record of OSHA inspections and violations under "Library," then "Statistics and Inspection Data" and then "Establishment Search." You can also look up any OSHA standard for reference, work injury and illness data for your company’s industry, and all proposed changes in OSHA standards. The "Library" on-line also provides useful health and safety fact sheets and information about many chemical and physical hazards. Happy searching and have a good summer! I’ll see you again in this column in the fall, following the National convention.

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