In late August, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a proposed change to the groups that workers can authorize to accompany OSHA compliance officers on safety inspections. The proposed change would broaden the types of non-employee third-party representatives who can be designated to represent workers during these inspections.
“Choosing their walkaround representative during an OSHA inspection is one of the most important rights workers have under the OSH Act,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chair David F. Rampone. “To achieve safer working conditions, workers need the ability to make their voice heard to OSHA compliance officers.”
The change would allow workers to designate “individuals with relevant skills, knowledge or experience that can assist in the inspection process.” This could include expertise in specific hazards, workplace conditions or language skills that improve communication between OSHA and workers (e.g., an industrial hygienist or toxicology expert, a union representative or workers’ right group, a translator).
“This proposal aims to make inspections more effective and ultimately make workplaces safer by increasing opportunities for employees to be represented in the inspection process,” said Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary of Occupational Safety and Health.
The proposal would still give OSHA compliance officers discretion to restrict access to an authorized third party if their participation would interfere with the inspection’s fairness, disrupt an otherwise orderly inspection or expose employer trade secrets.
Potential Jobsite Safety Impacts
- Representation without retaliation. The OSH Act clearly states workers are allowed to be involved during OSHA inspections. However, many workers may feel uncomfortable speaking up in that situation, especially when they aren’t part of a union. Expanding who can represent workers during inspections allows safety concerns to be reported by a third party and makes it more likely workers will be heard.
- Safety expertise and advocacy. The proposal emphasizes that regardless of who the workers’ representative is, the goal is to create a safer work environment. Under the new rule, a non-union worksite could appoint any third party that brings safety and health expertise, whether that’s a union safety and health expert, a workers’ rights group or another representative.
- Improved communication and collaboration. Today’s workforce is increasingly multilingual, and this proposal would allow workers to designate a representative who could communicate effectively with the OSHA inspector, even if they don’t work for the company. In addition, this proposal encourages a more collaborative safety culture between employers and workers, which the LHSFNA has long advocated for and believes creates a safer work environment.
Role of Unions & Union Representatives
The proposed rule would allow union safety and health professionals or other union representatives to be named as walkaround representatives, even on jobsites with non-union workers. This would allow unions to show the safety expertise and value they bring to the construction industry and provide another avenue to advocate for safe working conditions for all workers.
Most of the opposition from employers and employer groups has focused on what could happen if union representatives were allowed access to non-union worksites. However, the proposed rule is clear that engaging in organizing efforts during third-party inspections wouldn’t be permitted.
Across the construction industry and other industries, the majority of workers aren’t part of a union, making it less likely that their concerns are voiced during OSHA inspections. Making sure workers are part of that process should lead to safer working conditions, increased accountability and more thorough inspections on large sites.