Cal/OSHA Regulations Spark Employer Concern

California employers are up in arms over the state's attempt to enact new workplace safety regulations that they say overstep measures approved by the Legislature last year.

The California Chamber of Commerce last week noted that regulations proposed by Cal/OSHA to implement AB 1127, include key changes that were not part of the bill.

AB 1127 was signed into law by California Governor Davis on Oct. 6, 1999.

The bill was aimed at increasing the effectiveness of Cal/OSHA's enforcement efforts by increasing the maximum statutory civil penalty for a serious violation and for a failure-to-abate violation.

It also deleted the long-standing statutory exemption for government entities from imposition of Cal/OSHA penalties and increased the criminal penalties for certain Cal/OSHA violations.

The Office of Administrative Law approved changes of parts of AB 1127 on an emergency basis in December, making them effective for 120 days beginning Jan. 1.

Most notably, the Chamber of Commerce said the regulations create a new "unclassified" workplace violation, giving the state agency the ability "to strong-arm employers for higher penalties."

At the same time, the Chamber said the regulations allow the state to use workplace citations that are under appeal as evidence of repeat violations, and allow regulators to levy multiple fines for a single violation that is deemed "egregious."

Cal/OSHA Director John Howard said the controversial provisions simply reflect Fed-OSHA policies that have been developing over several years, and that including them in the AB 1127 regulations is simply the state's attempt to run them up the flagpole to see what the response is.

Nevertheless, the emergency regulations are in effect for all inspections and investigations beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2000.

Cal/OSHA has until May 1 to submit final regulations that make the changes contained in the emergency regulations permanent.

Employers were scheduled to present testimony at a public hearing in San Francisco yesterday.

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