The relationship between the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other state organized safety programs has become a point of confusion for many business owners and safety professionals. Knowing who has authority to issue violations or provide exclusions from inspections appears to becoming less and less transparent as OSHA moves forward on several safety outreach initiatives that involve a variety of different entities offering services that are entirely or partially funded by federal OSHA. For example, at a recent meeting a speaker from a State Chamber of Commerce Bureau of Occupational Safety and Health, operating under federal OSHA funding, assured a group of private business managers that he could guarantee exemptions from federal OSHA inspections and fines. Although there may be some slight degree of validity in his statement, the way it was offered was misleading and risky.
It's important to remember that most states do not have a federally approved state OSHA program. Under section 18 of the 1970 OSHA Act, states are encouraged to develop their own federally approved safety programs. Currently, there are only twenty-one states and two territories that have differing degrees of federal OSHA approval for state administration. If someone is claiming to be "state OSHA," be sure to check their credentials, they may be only representing a Chamber of Commerce Occupational Safety and Health Bureau through a federally funded OSHA program, such as the OSHA Consultation program.
These programs are a part of OSHA's outreach initiative and dovetail almost too comfortably with a recent federal OSHA alert that notified 14,200 employers across the country that their injury and illness rates are higher than average and encouraged them to take steps to reduce hazards and protect their workers. "The purpose of the notification process is to alert employers that their injury and illness rates are above average," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw.
OSHA identified establishments with the nation's highest lost workday injury and illness rates based on data reported by 93,000 employers surveyed by the agency last year (that survey collected injury and illness data from calendar year 2001). Workplaces receiving the alert letters had six or more injuries or illnesses resulting in lost workdays or restricted activity for every 100 full-time workers. Nationwide, the average workplace had just under three lost-time instances for every 100 workers.
OSHA sent letters to all employers with high injury and illness rates, and provided copies of their injury and illness data, along with a list of the most frequently violated OSHA standards for their specific industry. While addressing concerns for the high rates, Henshaw also offered the agency's help in turning those rates around, suggesting, the hiring of outside safety and health consultants and using safety and health consultation services provided by the agency through the states.
It is prudent for employers to realize that although state safety programs may provide value to small businesses, they may not be authorized by federal OSHA to operate as an extension of the regulatory body. Under these types of programs, the most that can be done to assure or guarantee freedom from an OSHA inspection and citation is a recommendation to federal OSHA for a one-year exclusion from an OSHA Programmed Inspection. This exclusion does not include inspections stemming from worker complaints, injury rate statistics, or fatalities. Furthermore, the OSHA consultants operate as part of a grant program funded by federal OSHA and therefore, have an administrative obligation to release information on safety inspections should an imminent hazard be discovered or a company fail to abate a noted hazard within a specified time-frame.
Many state and federally related programs, such as State Bureau of Workers' Compensation Safety and Health Services and Bureaus of Occupational Safety and Health, can be a useful second or third review of your safety program, but the value of these services should be kept in perspective. They are not designed to help you with the most difficult portion of every safety program-implementation and management review. This is where safety programs require the most resources and often fail to achieve their desired goals.
The 14,200 sites OSHA notified are listed alphabetically, by state, on OSHA's website at: http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/foia/hot_9.html. The list does not designate those earmarked for programmed inspections or employers located in states that operate OSHA-approved State plans covering the private sector.