The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is seeking greater flexibility to respond to concerns or incidents involving employers it has recognized as safe and/or those that are working to improve their workplace.
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published Sept. 3, OSHA is proposing a revision that would allow the agency to inspect worksites that are participating in its On-Site Consultation Program—currently, a risk-free opportunity for employers to identify and correct safety problems in their workplace.
Employers who carry Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) status could also face increased inspections.
The proposal is a radical departure for OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program, which has always been separate from the agency’s inspection, reporting and enforcement functions. The program, authorized in 1974 and codified in 1998, encourages employers to work with OSHA and its consultants on a free, confidential basis to identify workplace hazards, ensure compliance with standards, and establish safety and health management systems.
Participants in the Consultation Program are not currently cited or penalized for unsafe conditions uncovered in the improvement process. Employers who complete the program may seek to participate in OSHA’s SHARP initiative, which qualifies them for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.
That would all change under the revisions proposed last week.
The changes would clarify the agency’s “authority to identify sites that will be inspected, even if those sites are normally exempt because of their SHARP status,” OSHA said in a statement.
“For example, when workplace accidents occur that generate widespread public concern about a hazard or substance, such as diacetyl or combustible dust, the Assistant Secretary may require that OSHA respond to these hazards by inspecting all sites within a specific industry.”
Another proposed change would allow OSHA to terminate an employer’s on-site consultation visit and conduct an enforcement visit if it received a referral alleging workplace hazards or violations. Referrals may come from state or local health departments, media, and other sources.
The proposal maintains current procedures that allow enforcement visits to terminate an on-site consultation visit or SHARP status based on an imminent danger, fatalities or catastrophes, and complaints from workers.
‘An Incentive for Vigorous Compliance’
OSHA is also proposing to revise the existing initial exemption from programmed inspections of up to two years with an extension of up to three years for employers who have achieved SHARP status to one year with an extension of up to another year.
“OSHA recognizes that employer participation in voluntary programs such as SHARP contributes greatly to the statutory goal of eliminating hazards, and enables the agency to better allocate its scarce compliance resources,” the proposed rule says.
“However, it is also important that OSHA retain authority to conduct programmed inspections, and that establishments be aware they may be the subject of such an inspection. Such awareness may itself be an incentive for vigorous compliance efforts.”
Comments on the proposed rule must be submitted by Nov. 2, 2010. Individuals may submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov or by mail or hand delivery to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket Number OSHA-2010-0010, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20210. Submissions not longer than 10 pages may be faxed to the OSHA Docket Office at 202-693-1648.