Cal/OSHA Compliance Officers Say OSHAB’s “Unfair Policies” Impact Their Ability to Protect CA Workers

June 18, 2009
In a June 13 letter to the three Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board (OSHAB) members in Sacramento, Calif., 47 Cal/OSHA compliance personnel raised concerns over OSHAB policies they claim “sabotage” their ability to protect the safety of California workers.

The letter writers, who consist of field inspectors, district managers and senior safety engineers, accused the board of intentionally overbooking hearings, which leads to an increased number settlements and impacts Cal/OSHA’s ability to enforce the law.

According to the Cal/OSHA workers, OSHAB

  • Overbooks hearing days so a single judge, in a single location, has up to three or four hearings scheduled at the same time;
  • Refuses to indicate which of these overbooked hearings will be heard first;
  • Holds hearings at distant locations, making it difficult for witnesses to appear; and
  • Denies or ignores “legitimate requests for continuances.”

“How can we, who handle the majority of appeals for the Division, prepare exhibits, witnesses and arguments for three separate cases all scheduled for the same time? How can we convince worker witnesses to travel long distances, and then to come back after they have been sent home because their case wasn’t heard?” the Cal/OSHA representatives asked in the letter.

“The simple answer is that we can’t.”

Cal/OSHA, also known as the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), and OSHAB are both part of California’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR).

Settlements

The letter writers argue that overbooking hearings contributes to the hundreds more settlements made over the last several years, many of which have arrived at “drastic reductions” of penalties.

“Cal/OSHA’s deterrent effect has been significantly undermined as employers learn they can ‘game the system’ when the Division is coerced into settlements, often with penalties that are pennies on the dollar,” the letter stated.

“The people who pay the cost for these policies are California workers whose employers look at Cal/OSHA as an agency that is forced to fight with one hand tied behind its back.”

According to the letter writers, Cal/OSHA employees previously did not address this problem for fear of reprisal by the board, but now hope to challenge what they call unfair policies. The Cal/OSHA personnel asked OSHAB to cease and desist these practices.

“California’s workers have a right to, and deserve, a workplace health and safety agency that can do its job,” the letter stated.

DIR: Process Will Take Time

Dean Fryer, a DIR spokesperson, said in a statement that the concerns raised by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) employees are already being addressed in the new stakeholder meetings process.

“The Board was clear at the last stakeholder meeting that bringing the backlog of hearings under control had made it possible to begin this new phase in which the Board is finally free to engage in making positive changes,” Fryer said.

He added that the Senate Industrial Relations Committee held a hearing in May to consider this issue. The oversight hearing will reconvene in January or February, as agreed by both the board and DOSH, to determine the progress made in resolving the issues.

“As acknowledged at the hearing, this process will take time,” Fryer stated. “With the backlog eliminated we can now try to make the kinds of changes needed with input from all of the stakeholders, including Cal/OSHA employees.”

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