SALEM - Employer groups have declared "war" on the Oregon-Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OR-OSHA) as it prepares to make changes in some outdated administrative rules.
"OSHA's proposed Division I rules are under an orchestrated attack by various employers and their representatives," Brad Witt, secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO, told union leaders at a meeting Nov. 20 to review the proposed rule changes.
"Their full-court press involves efforts to undermine and/or eliminate worker representation during worksite inspections, management's responsibility for workplace safety and health, surprise inspections, compliance officers' ability to secure accident scenes, use of government data in scheduling inspections, employee notification of employer variances, soft-tissue injury abatement, implementation of ergonomics practices, and more."
Witt invited OR-OSHA Administrator Peter DeLuca to explain some of the rule changes the agency is considering.
"You're hearing a lot that we have 90 pages of rule changes," DeLuca said. "Well, most of those pages don't reflect changes to the rules. Many are housekeeping in nature, and several changes include federal regulations that the state has adopted."
DeLuca emphasized that the agency's goal was to simplify the system. "I believe OSHA, business and labor have more in common than we have in opposition, because it's in nobody's interest to have injured workers. Our mission is to enhance worker safety," he said.
Witt explained that in today's workplace soft-tissue injuries make up almost 50 percent of all workers' compensation claims, yet OR-OSHA has few rules addressing ergonomics safety standards. "It's time that the rules were updated to fill that void," he said.
DeLuca said OR-OSHA spends millions of dollars and substantial amounts of time litigating with businesses its inspectors' "procedures and processes." An example of time spent was whether an investigator properly identified himself prior to a worksite inspection.
In 1991-93, OR-OSHA expended $737,000 on lawsuits. In the last biennium that number spiraled upward to $1.35 million.
Some employer groups and their attorneys maintain the proposals are a "power play" by OR-OSHA to secretly change safety and health rules to hamper business owners.
Witt said employer groups plan to go the Legislature next session to try to halt the proposed administrative rule changes or possibly pass laws that weaken workplace safety rules altogether.
Some employer attorneys are even working to put Oregon job-safety regulations back in the hands of the federal government. As one attorney newsletter said, "The only way employers win this war is through legislative action.
"We won't let what happened to this state's workers' compensation system happen to OR-OSHA," Witt said.
Workers and union leaders are urged to comment on the rules change proposals at public hearings scheduled now through Dec. 10. The next meetings are: Monday, Dec. 7, Salem, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Labor and Industries Building, 350 Winter St. NE, Second Floor, Room 260.
Thursday, Dec. 10, Bend, 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Central Oregon Community College Education Center, Room 154.
The last day OR-OSHA will accept written comments on the proposed rule changes is Dec. 31.