Business, Labor Support OSHA Worker Web Page

But will OSHA have the resources to meet an expected increase in worker complaints?

The most recent foray by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) onto the Internet has provoked little controversy. A labor representative, though, expressed concern as to whether the agency will have the resources to meet expected increases in worker complaints.

OSHA marked Workers'' Memorial Day 2000 by launching The Workers'' Page, an addition to the agency''s home page filled with information about workers'' rights and employers'' responsibilities. It offers anyone with Internet access the option of filing a complaint. Previously, employees had to call or write the agency when alleging workplace hazards.

"It appears there is nothing here worthy of employer alarm," said Peter Eide, a spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Tim Fisher, manager of professional affairs and standards at the American Society of Safety Engineers, said his organization had no official position on the matter, but he is glad OSHA has gone ahead with the project. "The agency is going to be able to address complaints more efficiently now, and that''s going to benefit everybody," he said.

Last year, OSHA and its state partners received approximately 50,000 complaints. Half of those were pursued by telephone or fax, and another 40 percent led to on-site inspections.

"It''s about time," Larry Edginton, director of safety and health at the International Union of Operating Engineers, said when asked about his view of OSHA''s new Web page. "Previously, I don''t think the site was especially helpful to workers, but this is one-stop shopping now, and I think that is beneficial to working people."

Edginton wonders if the agency will have enough staff to follow up on the likely increased demand for inspections; otherwise, it might only lead workers to have less faith in OSHA.

In an interview, OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said he believes the new service will lead to more complaints, though he did not have any estimates as to how many more. He also did not indicate whether the agency hired new investigators to accommodate anticipated extra complaints.

Jeffress emphasized that the workers'' page is not only about complaining. It will be filled with background information and linked to many occupational safety and health Web sites. The workers'' page is available on OSHA''s home page at www.osha.gov/as/opa/worker/index.html.

by James L. Nash

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