OSHA Internal Problems Surface at NACOSH Meeting

NACOSH members expressed their displeasure with OSHA for failing to provide the necessary documents NACOSH needed to evaluate safety and health programs.

In the wake of its "work-at-home" public relations disaster, OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said the agency's process of internal review "is being looked at."

Jeffress's remarks came at the Jan. 18 meeting of the National Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) in Washington, DC.

NACOSH then almost voted to cancel a discussion of a part of the proposed safety and health program regulation because of OSHA's failure to provide documents NACOSH had requested months ago.

Two years after receiving a letter from a Texas company requesting clarification on OSHA's policy on the regulations governing telecommuters, the agency replied with a letter stating that a business is responsible for assuring a safe home office.

Two days after the letter was publicized, OSHA rescinded the letter, provoking widespread confusion. Both the Senate and the House have scheduled hearings this week on the telecommuting issue.

"Our internal process did not catch this," Jeffress told NACOSH members. "It failed."

NACOSH members were generally supportive of OSHA, noting that many unsafe work practices take place in the home environment. Several noted that although teleworkers may appear to be relatively safe, employers need to be responsible for more dangerous practices, such as the manufacture of fireworks and the casting of lead fishing weights.

"It's a shame the cartoonists got to this before you did," NACOSH member Margaret Carroll told Jeffress.

But many NACOSH members were far more critical of the agency for its failure to provide documents related to a study of the OSHA form that will be used to evaluate safety and health programs.

NACOSH was to discuss the form on the final day of its meeting, and came within one vote of canceling the discussion because of the problem.

"I have a sense of disrespect," said NACOSH member Nancy Lessin. "There's a problem here and I don't know what the problem is." Lessin and other members argued they could not properly evaluate the form without being able to study the documents.

The material did eventually appear shortly before the discussion was to take place.

Jeffress told Lessin he had no answer as to why it took so long for OSHA to comply with the NACOSH request, but he said he would look into the matter.

"I think," NACOSH's acting chair Hank Lick told Jeffress, "you should note the displeasure of the committee."

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