On August 29th the Dept. of Labor announced their plans to clarify & strengthen worker’s right to have an authorized employee representative during a workplace walk around inspection by OSHA. Workers have long had this right and many unions have used this right to ensure employers are not able to distract or sidetrack inspectors from areas with imminent danger and other hazards present that need eliminating or fixing. However, workers not represented by a union have often found it difficult to utilize this right. Many do not even know that they have this right or what it means.
When OSHA performs a workplace inspection the first thing most compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) will do is request the employer and employee representative be called to attend an opening conference where they will discuss the reason and scope of the inspection. While awaiting the representatives they will go over the company’s 300 Logs to see what types of injuries have occurred and their frequency as well as check for any missing injuries that they are aware of from news reports, are present in other facilities owned by the company or complaints filed with the local office.
Employers have the right to chose representatives to accompany the OSHA inspector and answer any questions the inspector may have. Likewise workers have the right to choose their own representatives to accompany the inspector and answer any questions the inspector may have as well as ask questions of the inspector, point out hazards the inspector may not be aware of or let them know if operations are not like normal work day or that management was aware of the inspection ahead of the compliance officer’s arrival. However if workers are not represented by a union or have a health and safety committee they may not be aware of this right or have difficulty using it. For this reason OSHA regulation has allowed all workers to have an employee representative that is not employed by the same employer. This representative may be an occupational safety and health expert from a union or community organization, such as WisCOSH, to represent the workers during the inspection process.
This vital right of workers has been under attack by extremists in Congress and employers for many years and has been hampered and made less easily used to the detriment of workers and workplace health and safety efforts and has cost workers and their families by increased injury, illness and death. In taking this step the DOL is reaffirming workers right to safe work in a healthy environment. You can assist them by submitting your comments before Oct. 30, 2023 at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2023/08/30/2023-18695/worker-walkaround-representative-designation-process.