OSHA Program Enlisting Building Inspectors To Identify Safety Hazards May Be Expanded

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is considering expanding its building inspector program, under which local inspectors identify unsafe work conditions they encounter while checking for building code violations, a senior agency official said Nov. 23.

Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said that a pilot program OSHA began earlier this year is “a fine example of cooperation between federal and local governments, benefiting both as well as helping our shared stakeholders and their communities.”

Speaking on a variety of job safety issues at a safety conference sponsored by the Building Trades Employers' Association of New York, Barab said, “We recently began evaluating the program in the pilot cities to determine whether to expand it.”

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced the pilot program in April at OSHA's Latino Safety Conference in Houston (40 OSHR 329, 4/22/10).

She sent letters to the mayors of 11 cities to enlist their help in having building inspectors partner with OSHA to look for hazards associated with falls, electrocution, being crushed or caught between objects, or being struck by moving machinery or objects--the four leading causes of construction-related deaths (40 OSHR 420, 5/20/10).

In his New York speech, Barab did not further specify what options the agency is examining, and an agency spokeswoman could provide no further details.

The agency treats the inspector calls as referrals and sends compliance officers to investigate complaints it receives, Barab said.

“We were not turning the building inspectors into OSHA inspectors, but we have asked them, in the course of conducting their own operations, to be vigilant,” Barab said. “If they see a serious job hazard or OSHA violation, they should either discuss the problem [with] the employer or call OSHA.”

Program Pioneered in New York.

The program was pioneered in New York, where a cross-referral program between New York's state OSHA program and its Department of Environmental Conservation has identified numerous hazards OSHA would have otherwise been unable to inspect, Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, told BNA Nov. 30.

“To us, this is an efficacious and effective use of resources given the limited number of OSHA inspectors,” Shufro said. “It would seem to me this would be a transferable program to other cities.”

Furthermore, OSHA could look to other government agencies to cross-train inspectors to identify and refer safety and health hazards in the workplace, such as restaurant health inspectors, he added.

“The idea is to maximize the amount of eyes in the workplace,” Schufro said.

Inspectors Call for Compensation.

Chuck Marino, president of the Commercial Inspectors Association of America, told BNA Nov. 29 that if OSHA wants building inspectors to report safety hazards, they should pay those workers “legitimate compensation.”

In addition, OSHA should require those inspectors be certified by private entities, such as the Commercial Inspectors Association, and implement a performance review process “so those people are actually doing what's being asked of them.”

“I think the concept in and of itself is a good concept,” Marino said. “But I think those three things should be added, otherwise you're going to get inadequate, uneducated inspectors.”

By Greg Hellman

Barab's speech to the Building Trades Employers' Association of New York is available at http://tinyurl.com/29tsb6u.