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Former Cal/OSHA head discusses work safety initiative enforcement

In a previous post, our blog discussed a study by the Santa Monica-based RAND Corp., which determined that while the California Injury and Illness Prevention Program (CIIPP) has proven successful in reducing work injuries, accidents and hazards over the last 19 years, this success has been largely limited to those businesses that were cited for violating particular work safety mandates.

Specifically, RAND researchers found that inspectors with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) -- the agency in charge of enforcing CIIPP -- are mainly checking to see if employers have the required written policy and often not delving any deeper. However, when they do delve deeper and cite an employer for violating a specific CIIPP violation, real change occurs.

For those unfamiliar with CIIPP, it is an occupational safety program introduced in 1991 to drastically reduce the number of work injuries/accidents here in the Golden State. It calls for employers to do some of the following:

  • Convey workplace risks to employees
  • Investigate work injuries
  • Implement safety training
  • Reduce/eliminate workplace risks
  • Execute workplace surveys
  • Create a written policy on workplace safety

Interestingly, Len Welsh, the Cal/OSHA chief from 2003 to 2011 and current chief counsel for the Department of Industrial Relations' litigation department, recently came out in defense of how agency inspectors have enforced CIIPP over the years.

Here, one of Welsh's primary arguments was that Cal/OSHA inspectors are rarely able to delve very deeply into all potential CIIPP violations because their ranks are simply spread too thin. (Specifically, government statistics there are only 240-some inspectors and 1.3 million businesses in California).

Accordingly, Welsh reasoned that the agency must instead focus its limited resources on cracking down on those business operators who "may wind up in jail when we catch them."

"We have to ask ourselves, 'Should we be spending half-a-day there to issue one or two tickets, or should we be moving in on and trying to nail somebody who is in the underground economy?'"

Welsh was generally supportive of the study, and believed that it not only presented CIIPP in a positive light but also raised some rather interesting manpower issues that will likely need to be addressed further down the road.

"[I]f you really implement an IIPP, you will see a benefit, but if you get it and stick it on a shelf, it's not going to do anything for you. To me the news is pretty much all good," he said. "[However,] if the proposition is that inspectors should dig deeper when they see no paper ... that's a resource question that needs to be studied."

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


Insurance Journal, "Former Cal-OSHA chief defends workplace safety program" Feb. 6, 2012

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