OSHA Basics: OSHA’s Consultation Services


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Our OSHA Basics series of articles explains basic, fundamental, and important topics related to OSHA and OSHA compliance.

In this one, we're going to introduce OSHA's consultation services to you, explain some of the benefits, and point you to places where you can learn more.

The Purpose of OSHA and OSHA Consultations

What comes to mind when you think of OSHA? Maybe regulations? Citations? Penalties?

Well, all of that IS a part of what OSHA does. But there's more to OSHA than that. Take a moment and think about the purpose of OSHA...what do you think their mission is? Here's how OSHA defines its mission:

With the Occupational Safety and Health act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure safety and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.

Now, you may have seen where we were going with this even before the quote above, and admittedly the bold font we just used isn't all that subtle. But to not only make a point but to also underline it, notice the mentions to:

  • Assuring safety and healthful working conditions
  • Providing...outreach...[and]...assistance

And the OSHA consultation services fit right "in there."

What Are OSHA's Consultation Services?

So, with that introduction completed, you're probably wondering what OSHA's consultation services are. Let's see how OSHA explains their consultation services:

OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small- and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories...On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies or universities work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs.

Sounds pretty nice, no?

Let's look at a few other common questions while we're at it.

Is There a Cost for OSHA Consultation Services?

No. As OSHA puts it, consultations are "no-cost."

Are Citations and Penalties Issued During as a Result of OSHA Consultation Services.

No. As OSHA puts it, "No citations or penalties will be issued."

Are Findings During OSHA Consultations Reported to OSHA Inspection Officers?

Not typically. Here is some of what OSHA has to say about that on their Consultations webpage:

[The} safety and health consultation program is completely separate from the OSHA inspection effort....The consultation is confidential and will not be reported routinely to the OSHA inspection staff.

Of course, that "will not be reported routinely" mention above makes you think they reserve the report on a non-routine basis. If this is something you're concerned about, it's worth asking your OSHA representative to explain more fully while considering consultation services.

Might the Employer Face Any Obligation as a Result of an OSHA Consultation Visit?

Yes. If serious hazards are identified, you're obligated to address them. Here's how OSHA explains that:

Your only obligation will be to correct serious job safety and health hazards -- a commitment which you are expected to make prior to the actual visit and carry out in a timely manner.

What Will OSHA's On-Site Consultants Do?

According to OSHA, the onsite consultants will:

  • Help with hazard identification
  • Suggest general options for solving safety or health problems
  • Suggest types of assistance available if you need more help
  • Provide a written report that summarizes their findings
  • Help you develop and/or maintain an effective safety and health program
  • Provide training and education for both you and your employees

What Will OSHA's On-Site Consultants NOT Do?

According to OSHA, the onsite consultants will NOT:

  • Issue citations
  • Propose penalties for OSHA standard violations
  • Report possible violations to OSHA enforcement staff

Those are all pretty related--they're things you might worry about. In addition, though, OSHA also notes that working with OSHA consultation services will not "guarantee that your workplace will pass an OSHA inspection." Good to know.

What Are the Four Basic Steps of the Consultation Process?

According to OSHA, the consultation process unfolds in four basic steps:

  1. Opening conference
  2. Walk through
  3. Closing conference
  4. Abatement and follow-through

So, minus the lack of fear about citations and penalties, the general process is similar to the process of an OSHA inspection.

What Kind of Help Can I Anticipate from the Consultation?

According to OSHA, after the consultation you'll have:

  • An appraisal of mechanical and environmental hazards
  • An appraise of physical work practices
  • An appraisal of your current safety and health programs or the establishment of the same
  • A conference between OSHA consultation and management about the consultation findings
  • A written report with OSHA consultation services' recommendations and your agreements
  • Training and assistance for implementing those recommendations

Specific Programs within OSHA's Consultation Services

OSHA offers a few different programs for consultation services, including those listed below:

  • Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP): OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs "recognize employers and workers in the private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. In VPP, management, labor, and OSHA work cooperatively and proactively to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses through a system focused on: hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; and management commitment and worker involvement.." Click to read more about OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs.
  • Safety and Health Achivement Recognition Program (SHARP): SHARP is a program that "recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA's On-Site Consultation Program services and operate an exemplary safety and health programs. Acceptance of your worksite into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles you out among your business peers as a model for worksite safety and health." Click to read more about the Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).
  • Alliance: OSHA's Alliance program "works with groups committed to worker safety and health to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. These groups include unions, consulates, trade or professional organizations, businesses, faith- and community-based organizations, and educational institutions." Click to read more about the Alliance program.
  • OSHA Challenge: The OSHA Challenge " provides participating employers and workers an avenue to work with their designated Challenge Administrators to develop and/or improve their safety and health management program through mentoring, training and progress tracking." Click to read more about OSHA Challenge.
  • OSHA Strategic Partnership Program (OSPP): The OSHA Strategic Partnership Program "The OSHA Strategic Partnership Program (OSPP) provides opportunities for OSHA to partner with employers, workers, professional or trade associations, labor organizations, and other interested stakeholders." Click to read more about the OSHA Strategic Partnership Program.

Where Can I Learn More about OSHA Consultation Services?

There's a whole bunch more information here about OSHA consultation services. Or, you can listen to our interview about OSHA's VPP & SHARP Programs.

Where Can I Request OSHA Consultation Services?

Use this webpage to find the OSHA consultation services local office in your state.

An In-Depth Interview about OSHA's VPP & SHARP Consultation Services

If you want to learn even more on this topic, you'll find this interview with Oregon OSHA's Mark Hurliman, the VPP and SHARP Program Coordinator, about VPP and SHARP very insightful.

Conclusion: Incorporation by Reference

If you found this "OSHA Basics" article on incorporation by reference useful, you may also want to check out some of the following articles:

Want to Know More?

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