OSHA has finally issued its official proposal to update how workers can choose their walk-around representatives. Choosing someone to walk around with OSHA inspectors during an inspection is one of the most important rights that workers have under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
But in practice, the right has largely been limited to those workers with union representation, and mostly to workers who work in the inspected workplace. Where there is no walkaround representative, the law directs OSHA inspectors only to “consult with a reasonable number of employees concerning matters of health and safety in the workplace.”
This regulation would allow non-union workers to choose their walkaround reps –inside the workplace, or from outside — from a workers rights group, a union, or safety, industrial hygiene or toxicology experts.
OSHA issued a similar policy through an “interpretation” of the existing regulation during the Obama administration, but furious opposition from Republicans and the business community forced the agency to go through the more lengthy regulatory process.
As I described here at some length, the current proposal is also facing strong opposition from business interests who falsely accuse OSHA of “making clear its agenda is no longer focused on improving workplace safety but on promoting organized labor.”
But, of course, they’re wrong. The goal of OSHA’s revised walkaround policy is not to aid union organizing, but to help workers come home alive at the end of the day. Especially workers who don’t have unions. Even where there is no union organizing campaign.
According to OSHA head Doug Parker:
“Congress considered worker participation a key element of workplace safety and health inspections when it passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act. 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.”
Happily, procedural regulations like this take far less time to finalize that safety or health standards. If OSHA moves quickly, the final regulation will be issued during this administration, and hopefully early enough escape possible repeal under the Congressional Review Act should the Republicans take the House, Senate and White House after the 2024 election.
OSHA is accepting comments at Regulations.gov, the federal eRulemaking portal by Oct. 30, 2023.