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Safety Groups Call for OSHA Reforms

A coalition of safety advocates, including National COSH, has filed a petition before the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC), calling for greater worker and public participation in Commission proceedings.

“Workers know best how to prevent the hazards that cause injuries, illnesses and death on the job,” says Mary Vogel, Executive Director of National COSH. “To make sure our workplaces are safer, workers’ voices must be heard loud and clear. And we need to shine as much light as possible on what is too often hidden from view – the unsafe practices that put workers at unnecessary risk on every shift, day and night, every day of the week.”

“For 44 years, the OSH Act has explicitly given workers the clear right to be involved when employers appeal OSHA citations,” said Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Director for the labor union coalition Change to Win. “As conditions change and employers try to narrow worker participation, the Commission must keep its rules current and preserve this fundamental right.”

“When employees appear before the Review Commission, they should get a fair shake and be full participants,” said Randy Rabinowitz, Co-Director of the Occupational Safety and Health Law Project.

National COSH and its partners in this petition filing are calling for:

An expanded definition of “affected employee”
As of now, only a worker who is directly employed by an employer with a case before the Review Commission can participate as a party to OSHRC proceedings. With more and more companies using temporary and contract workers -- who may be “directly” employed by a different company such as a staffing agency-- we argue that OSHRC should allow full participation by any worker at a multi-employer worksite who is affected by the hazard or violation under appeal.

A consistent right for workers to select their own representatives at Review Commission hearings
Although the OSH Act allows employees the right to select individuals or organizations to represent them during Commission proceedings, this provision of Federal law is not always honored in practice. “OSHRC judges,” the petition states, “have expressed skepticism, if not downright hostility, to the individuals who have sought to represent workers before OSHRC, or have imposed unreasonable limits on a representative’s participation.”

More sunlight on Review Commission proceedings
Under current Commission rules, any statement or information offered during settlement talks regarding major cases before the Review Commission is treated as confidential, regardless of the source of the information.

“No worker should be silenced just because his or her employer tries to hide unsafe practices behind a cloak of so-called ‘confidentiality’ while trying to settle an OSHA citation,” says Vogel. “As the Review Commission seeks to update its procedures, the common sense reforms we are suggesting will help it function more effectively for all parties and uphold the public’s interest in creating safer workplaces.”

The Review Commission, created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, hears appeals of OSHA violations and penalties issued against employers following OSHA inspections. With OSHA doing nearly 40,000 inspections annually, the Commission hears some 2,700 employer appeals every year. Many of these cases involve critical issues for the workers affected. The outcome can literally determine whether workers will suffer serious injury or die if employers don’t fix the violations.

National COSH is joined in its Jan. 23rd petition by the Occupational Safety and Health Law Project, North America’s Building Trades Unions, Change to Win, and the United Steelworkers.

 

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