Cal/OSHA Considers New Bill That Expedites Abatements

In February of 2013, Assembly Member Nancy Skinner introduced AB1165 to the California State Assembly. This bill is titled “Increasing Worker Safety: Hazard Abatement.” It would dramatically change the rights and responsibilities of employers during the appeal period after certain citations. As the law currently stands, employers have a 15 day period to file an appeal after receiving a citation. During the appeals process, any requirement that the employer correct a potential safety hazard is put on hold. In other words, the burden of proof is on the DOSH to demonstrate that the employer is indeed in violation of safety regulations.

How Would Things Change?

Under the new legislation, employers would be required to immediately abate the cited hazards in cases of serious, willful, or repeat violations. The assumption is that, in these cases, there is likely to be overwhelming evidence that a substantial breach of safety and health regulations has occurred and workers are at high risk.

With repeat violations that have been previously cited, the chances are probably good that the citation will hold up on appeal. Then again, Cal/OSHA sometimes finds that a violation is serious or willful only to have the severity of the citation downgraded on appeal. You may remember that the definition of the term “serious” has been substantially broadened recently to mean a “reasonable possibility” exists that a serious injury or death could occur. This means many employers may be affected if this new bill passes.

Where Do Things Stand Now?

Currently, the bill has passed unanimously through the Senate Committee Labor & Industrial Relations and will be heard next by the Senate Committee on Appropriations. A similar bill has already passed in Washington State, so it’s likely that this legislation will move forward and become enacted.

What Are the Pros and Cons?

The hope is that workers will benefit from fast-tracked fixes for potentially dangerous workplace situations. Employers will still have the ability to go through the appeals process in an attempt to have the citation and fines reversed or minimized. At the same time, employers are at increased risk for higher costs associated with responding to OSHA inspections and citations. Now more than ever, it’s important for employers to be proactive in keeping their safety standards up to code. An assessment with an experienced consulting firm is a good place to start.