Feds Find Gaping Holes in CAL/OSHA Safety Net
Serious Enforcement and Inspection Failures Put California Workers at Risk
Washington, DC — The, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the worker health and safety program in California for falling below minimum performance standards in response to a complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the state
Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) must upgrade its enforcement and inspection programs or face a variety of federal sanctions.
In a letter to PEER dated June 26, 2015, OSHA Area Director David Shiraishi upheld the bulk of the “Complaint about State Program Administration” that PEER filed in February 2014. In its review, OSHA found that Cal/OSHA:
- Fails to conduct an adequate number of inspections in dangerous workplaces and fails to follow its own policy of doing follow-up inspections on serious violators;
- Does not issue citations in a timely manner, thus delaying hazard abatement and prolonging dangerous conditions. OSHA found the “amount of time Cal/OSHA takes to issue citations is 69% longer than OSHA for safety inspections and 33% longer for health inspections”; and
- Takes too long to respond to worker complaints of unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Cal/OSHA “averaged almost working four days to initiate investigations for complaints alleging serious hazards” with one serious complaint sitting 106 days. For non-serious complaints, Cal/OSHA averaged more than two weeks before inspecting with one case sitting 300 days.
The OSHA letter contains recommendations for how Cal/OSHA can remedy the identified failures while concluding that “the State Plan is required to remedy these deficiencies.” Like California, nearly half the states are funded by OSHA to operate their own state plans which, by law, must be at least as effective as the federal program. This finding means that California is not meeting that minimum threshold.
“California workers are more at risk than those in other states and have less protection on the job now than at any other time in a generation,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that California has more game wardens than workplace inspectors. “This is a failing grade that Cal/OSHA cannot ignore if it wants to keeps its doors open.”
Under Governor Brown, Cal/OSHA has suffered from a leadership revolving door and a siphoning off of funding for other programs. The last OSHA annual audit in 2014 confirmed that Cal/OSHA “remains understaffed and, as a result, is challenged to fulfill its important mission.”
The only PEER charge that OSHA did not sustain was that OSHA failed to conduct an adequate number of health inspections. OSHA found that while the number of Cal/OSHA health inspections actually decreased, the ratio of health versus safety inspections increased.
“In California, environmental protection stops at the factory door,” added Ruch. “The Golden State often justifiably prides itself for being a national trendsetter but in terms of worker health and safety California is leading a race to the bottom.”