Federal report: Cal/OSHA needs speedier complaint process, better inspector training

By Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, AP
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Feds: Cal/OSHA needs speedier complaint process

LOS ANGELES — The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health needs to speed up its complaint process and do a better job training inspectors, among other improvements, according to federal labor officials.

A report issued Tuesday by the U.S. Labor Department identified dozens of deficiencies in Cal/OSHA’s programs and drew rebuke from state officials.

“Every legitimate observation they’ve made about a problem, we will address,” said Cal/OSHA chief Len Welsh. “I’m going to predict, however, that just about every problem they’ve found we know about already and we’re working on.”

Welsh said the federal report is riddled with errors and fails to account for California’s more stringent regulations and successes in state-only programs.

According to the report, it takes an average of 24.5 days for Cal/OSHA to initiate an investigation after a complaint is received, but it should only take three days.

The report also criticized the state’s training process for inspectors, noting “substantive gaps in training noted for new hires,” with 32 compliance officers not enrolling in training courses for more than a year after being hired.

Welsh said the department has developed a new training program that has been in place for six months and hopes to be able to provide more consistent training when the state budget is approved.

A number of the state’s standards for workplace safety are considerably more stringent than federal guidelines, Welsh said. For example, the maximum amounts of certain chemicals that California workers can be exposed to, such as acetone or manganese, are less than what federal standards allow.

“We do a lot of things in California that the feds just don’t do and there’s no attempt to concretely factor in what we do that’s different than them or more stringent than them,” Welsh said.

The federal report was also critical of the state’s handling of fatality investigations, saying that in 23 of 52 cases, Cal/OSHA inspectors made no contact with victims’ families.

Welsh said the state agency will respond fully to the federal report within the next few weeks after conducting its own audit.

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