OSHA Backs Off New Inspection Plan
Employers who participate in federal safety programs will continue to enjoy exemptions from certain inspections after regulators dropped a plan to adjust the program.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has withdrawn a proposed rule that would have amended the agency's On-Site Consultation Program to potentially tighten the benefits accorded employers in OSHA's Safety and Health Recognition Program (SHARP).
SHARP employers have met certain criteria in their injury and illness prevention programs. Those businesses enjoy exemption from OSHA programmed inspections as long as their SHARP certification is valid.
"Acceptance of a worksite into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement that singles out a business as a model for worksite safety and health," OSHA wrote Thursday (Aug. 8) in a Federal Register notice withdrawing the rule.
So what's the problem?
The current flap began in September 2010, when OSHA announced that it would clarify provisions of the Consultation program, including how long SHARP employers could be removed from OSHA's Programmed Inspection Schedule and when OSHA could conduct an unannounced inspection at a recognized employer.
(OSHA already is allowed to inspect SHARP employers in cases of imminent danger, fatalities or catastrophes, or complaints from workers.)
SHARP exempts particpating employers from certain inspections. A proposed rule, now withdrawn, would have changed those benefits.
The proposed changes involved the circumstances that might trigger an unscheduled inspection, the length of the exemption granted SHARP employers, and other issues. One change would have added referrals (allegations of hazards by a third party) as a basis to terminate the employer's on-site consultation visit and conduct an enforcement visit.
Another would have reduced SHARP employers' initial two-year exemption from inspections to one year.
OSHA said the changes would provide "greater flexibility for inspecting worksites."
Clarification and Consternation
Last week, OSHA called the proposed changes "very minor." Employers disagreed.
|Acadia Windows & Doors|
Founded in 1947, Acadia Windows & Doors of Baltimore, MD, is a SHARP employer.
During a 60-day public comment period on the proposal, the agency received 89 comments from employers, business groups, labor unions and worker safety advocates, who insisted that any change would discourage greater employer participation in the program.
OSHA said that some of the comments reflected an inaccurate belief that the changes would increase inspections or eliminate exemptions.
"OSHA did not intend any of these results," the agency wrote. "However, in light of the magnitude of the concerns expressed compared to the relatively minor changes OSHA intended, the Agency has decided to withdraw the proposed rule."
It added: "If the small changes OSHA proposed could have the effect of discouraging participation in the programs, the Agency does not believe it is worth amending the rule."