A quiet legislative year on workplace safety issues still ended in a victory for the California Chamber of Commerce, which also kept busy leading employer opposition to misguided regulatory proposals.
The CalChamber opposed legislation regarding Cal/OSHA safety variances, AB 578 (Low; D-Campbell). The bill would have created uncertainty and potential delays for all employers seeking variances from safety standards by creating expansive new notification requirements from employers to individuals who are not employees of the employer and who may not be known to the employer, in order to solve a narrow concern with variance applications for elevators.
Although the CalChamber offered amendments, they were rejected by the author and sponsors of the bill, which was vetoed by the Governor.
Throughout the year, Cal/OSHA was very busy on the regulatory front. The CalChamber provided comments and participated in rulemaking processes on various proposals to create new or revise existing regulations. Below are two of the most significant rulemaking efforts on which the CalChamber led an opposition coalition.
The latest round of action on Hotel Housekeeping Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention was a discussion draft provided to the public for comment, before formal rulemaking. This draft follows four advisory committee meetings on the subject since 2012.
The CalChamber prepared coalition comments outlining general and specific concerns with this latest proposal.
Generally, the coalition asserts that a separate stand-alone program specifically for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) exclusively for housekeepers is unwarranted. Specific concerns with the discussion draft include:
• It is overly prescriptive, departs from the plain language and intent of the existing Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) regulations model and assumes that housekeeping is hazardous and must be corrected.
• It discusses correcting, rather than controlling or reducing/minimizing chance of injury. As a job that is physical in nature, and at times strenuous, there is no way to eliminate the physical nature of the work. It can only be minimized.
• If the draft rule is intended to be a mirror of an IIPP, but more specific to housekeeping, it should track more closely with the IIPP provisions and not be more prescriptive.
• The proposal is redundant to and subordinates the existing ergonomics standard 5110, which already addresses the potential exposures addressed in the draft.
An advisory committee is scheduled for December 3 in Oakland to discuss this latest draft.
More information is available at the Cal/OSHA website.
Another significant regulatory proposal would change the manner and significantly expand the criteria under which Cal/OSHA may issue a repeat violation citation for violations of the safety regulations.
The changes have been proposed in response to Federal OSHA directing Cal/OSHA to conform its repeat violation citation criteria to the federal program criteria in order to be “at least as effective as” the federal program.
The CalChamber led a coalition of more than 40 organizations in opposition to the proposed changes.
The coalition opposed the changes as unnecessary because:
• Under the agreement between the state and Federal OSHA that authorizes California to operate its own state OSHA program, California must demonstrate that it is “at least as effective as” its federal counterpart. The state/federal agreement does not stipulate that state programs must be the same as the federal program.
• California imposes higher penalties, has stronger regulations, and covers more hazards than does Federal OSHA.
• The proposed criteria will undermine larger California employers’ good-faith efforts to comply with the regulations.
• The redirection of limited resources away from pursuing the underground economy, which Cal/OSHA has identified as a high priority, will be a likely consequence.
Cal/OSHA’s proposed amendments incorporate aspects of the Federal OSHA regulations in a piecemeal fashion that will lead to more punitive enforcement actions against responsible employers. This outcome would be counterproductive as it would divert agency focus and resources from employers that do not maintain safe workplaces.
A public hearing was held in October. It is anticipated that a subsequent revision (15-day notice) based on public comments will be issued before the end of the year. More information on this rulemaking can be found here.
CalChamber responded to various other Cal/OSHA safety and health regulatory proposals through written comments and public testimony.
For more information on CalChamber’s efforts on workplace safety and health rulemaking, contact CalChamber Policy Advocate Marti Fisher.