OSHA Inspection Standards: DOL Proposes Clearer Protocols

ongoing OSHA inspection in an industrial workplace with two authorized employees

In a recent move to enhance workplace safety and streamline inspection processes, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed significant changes to the regulations surrounding authorized employee representation during an OSHA inspection. This article delves deep into these proposed changes, shedding light on their implications for industrial professionals.

A New Direction for Workplace Inspections

The U.S. Department of Labor has taken a proactive step by announcing a notice of proposed rulemaking. This revision aims to clarify the regulations regarding who is considered as an authorized employee during an OSHA inspection or the physical workplace inspections conducted by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance officers.

Key Changes in the Proposed Rule

Authorized Employee: The proposed rule emphasizes that employees have the right to authorize either a fellow employee or a non-employee third party to accompany compliance officers during OSHA inspections.

Role of Third-Party Representatives: Contrary to the limitations in the existing OSHA inspection regulations, the proposed changes highlight that third-party representatives aren't restricted to just industrial hygienists or safety engineers. These representatives can be deemed necessary due to their unique skills, knowledge, or experience that can enhance the inspection process. Their expertise might encompass familiarity with specific hazards, workplace conditions, or even language proficiencies that can bridge communication gaps between OSHA representatives and workers.

Implications and Concerns on the OSHA Inspection Proposed Rule

  • Historical Context: The proposed rule for OSHA inspections would mark a return to the 2013 guidance rescinded under the Trump Administration after a federal judge indicated the agency had improperly circumvented notice-and-comment rulemaking by issuing a letter of interpretation on the topic.
  • Union Representative: Employers express concerns that a union representative might use OSHA inspections as avenues to reach certain workers and bolster union support. The presence of a union representative, especially at a nonunion workplace, could shift the inspection's focus from workplace safety to the union's agenda.
  • Trade Secrets: Employers are also apprehensive about protecting trade secrets from discovery by nonemployees. While the proposed rule retains conditions that protect trade secrets, there's a risk that uninformed employers might inadvertently expose sensitive areas to third-party representatives.
  • Broadened Scope: The proposed rule faces criticism due to the wide range of third parties who might gain entry during an OSHA inspection. This could potentially allow a union representative to organize workers or expand their influence in a workplace.
  • Regulatory Clarity: The proposed rule aims to clarify that third-party representatives are not limited to specific roles like industrial hygienists or safety engineers. Instead, the focus is on the individual's knowledge, skills, or experience, irrespective of their professional discipline.

The Rationale Behind the OSHA Inspection Revision

Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, Doug Parker, elucidated the motivation behind these proposed changes. He stated, "Congress considered worker participation a significant aspect of workplace safety and health inspections when it enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This proposal is geared towards making inspections more effective, thereby enhancing workplace safety by expanding opportunities for employees to have representation during the inspection process."

Rights and Responsibilities Remain Intact

It's crucial for industry professionals to note that the proposed revisions do not alter the existing regulations that empower OSHA compliance officers. These officers retain the authority to ascertain if an individual can be considered as an authorized employee. They also have the discretion to exclude someone from the OSHA inspections if they believe the individual's behavior could disrupt a fair and systematic inspection or if there's a need to safeguard employer trade secrets.

As the discourse around these changes unfolds, it's imperative for industry leaders and professionals to stay informed and participate actively in the feedback process. After all, a safer workplace benefits everyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can an employee participate in an OSHA inspection?
Yes, employees have the right to participate in OSHA inspections

Can an employee representative accompany an OSHA inspector during an OSHA inspection?
Yes, an employee-authorized representative can accompany an OSHA compliance officer during physical workplace inspections.

What may the OSHA inspector do if there is no employee representative?
If there is no authorized employee representative, the OSHA compliance officer will consult with a reasonable number of employees concerning workplace safety matters during the inspection.

Who are the workers' representatives during an OSHA inspection?
Workers' representatives during an OSHA inspection can be either an employee of the employer or when deemed reasonably necessary to aid in the inspection, a third party. This third party can have specific skills, knowledge, or experience that can enhance the inspection process.

Who may participate in an OSHA inspection?
The participants in an OSHA inspection can include the OSHA compliance officer, a representative authorized by the employer, and a representative authorized by the employees. The employee-authorized representative can be an employee or a third party, such as a union representative, industrial hygienists, safety engineers, or others with relevant expertise.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.