Broad New Category Proposed for Inspecting SHARP Participants

Imminent danger investigations, fatality/catastrophe investigations, and complaint investigations are already in the regulation; the added category would be "other critical inspections as determined by the Assistant Secretary."

OSHA on Friday proposed to add a fourth category to the three circumstances under which enforcement action can be taken against sites of employers participating in OSHA Consultation's Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). The current three are imminent danger investigations, fatality/catastrophe investigations, and complaint investigations; the added category would be "other critical inspections as determined by the Assistant Secretary."

The agency's proposal contains this explanation of why the change is needed: "At times, however, special circumstances may make it necessary to conduct an inspection or investigation at an establishment ordinarily exempt because of the employer's participation in the OSHA On-site Consultation Program. One such situation might arise in connection with workplace accidents that generate widespread public concern about a particular hazard or substance. As part of a national response to these hazards, OSHA may need to conduct programmed inspections of all sites within a specific industry. An onsite OSHA investigation might also be appropriate in the rare circumstance where a subsequent accident or other event at a particular establishment makes it advisable for OSHA to revisit the site. For this reason OSHA is proposing the addition of a fourth category, 'other critical inspections as determined by the Assistant Secretary,' to the list of permissible inspections for worksites which have otherwise been deleted or deferred from programmed inspection lists as a result of SHARP or Pre-SHARP participation."

The On-site Consultation Program was authorized by Congress in 1974 and added to the OSHA Act 14 years later by enactment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Compliance Assistance Authorization Act. State consultants perform work site visits, and once these are successfully completed, the employers may seek to join the SHARP program, which recognizes employers for exemplary achievements in workplace safety and health. They agree to request further consultative visits if major changes in working conditions or processes occur that may introduce new hazards, and they are exempt from programmed OSHA inspections for "not less than one year." OSHA's proposal would change that wording to say the exemption exists for one year.

Assistant Secretary David Michaels recently told the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association that OSHA is committed to ensuring the integrity of VPP but will seek non-governmental funding to allow it to continue and grow.

"OSHA recognizes that employer participation in voluntary programs such as SHARP contributes greatly to the statutory goal of eliminating hazards, and enables the agency to better allocate its scarce compliance resources. However, it is also important that OSHA retain authority to conduct programmed inspections, and that establishments be aware they may be the subject of such an inspection. Such awareness may itself be an incentive for vigorous compliance efforts," the Sept. 3 proposed rule states. "On balance, OSHA believes that, after the expiration of the one-year inspection exemption provided under 21(d), the name of an establishment may be deleted from the programmed inspection schedule for no more than one additional year."

Written comments are due by Nov. 2; submit them via www.regulations.gov, identified by docket number OSHA-2010-0010 or regulatory information number (RIN) 1218-AC32.

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