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OSHA proposal on worker walkaround representation draws partisan comments

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Washington — A pair of lawmakers from opposites sides of the aisle, along with a coalition of organizations, express opposing viewpoints in comments on OSHA’s proposed rule on worker walkaround representation.

The proposed rule, which had a comment deadline of Nov. 13, would allow workers to designate someone who doesn’t work for their employer to represent them during an OSHA “walkaround” inspection.

Under OSHA 1903.8, a walkaround representative “shall be an employee(s) of the employer.” However, the regulation also allows an OSHA inspector, also known as a compliance safety and health officer, to make a judgment call on whether a third party can participate in the walkaround.

“The proposed revisions do not change existing regulations that give OSHA compliance officers the authority to determine if an individual is authorized by employees and to prevent someone from participating in the walkaround inspection if their conduct interferes with a fair and orderly inspection, or to limit participation to protect employer trade secrets,” OSHA says in a press release.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, submitted a comment suggesting that OSHA “abandon” the proposal, claiming the Department of Labor is “putting its political goal of promoting unionization at all costs ahead of keeping workers safe.”

She adds: “Congress created OSHA and entrusted it with the important mission of protecting the health and safety of the nation’s workers. In order to uphold this vital mission, OSHA should abandon the proposed walkaround rule, which will upend the long-standing inspection process, interfere with labor-management relations, and harm employers and workers.”

Conversely, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), ranking member of the committee, calls on OSHA to accept a worker-designated representative by default instead of requiring CSHO approval.

“OSHA has wisely recognized in the proposed rule that it should advise its inspectorate to recognize the value that a third party put forward as the workers’ walkaround representative can add to an inspection. … [However,] OSHA should more boldly rewrite the proposed rule to accept workers’ choice of representative by default and maximize workers’ rights to representation of their own choosing throughout the inspection, enforcement and contest processes.”

Also submitting a comment in support of the proposal was a group of 67 organizations, via a letter. Among the coalition is the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health and Sur Legal Collaborative, an immigrant and worker rights nonprofit. 

“Giving workers the right to select someone as their representative is critical to ensuring their safety and health,” Shelly Anand, co-founder and executive director of the Sur Legal Collaborative, said in a National COSH press release. “Many times workers don’t even know they have the right to participate in the walkaround process.

“Even if they do know, however, many do not feel safe participating for fear of retaliation, especially if they are immigrants and non-English speaking. Without this rule, abusive employers will continue to fight tooth and nail to narrow the scope of OSHA inspections, preventing OSHA from viewing dangerous working conditions.”

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