Magazine article Occupational Hazards

California's Tough New Job Safety Law

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

California's Tough New Job Safety Law

Article excerpt

Was Senate Bill 198 California's regulatory version of the stealth bomber?

To hear the cries of dismay from business, particularly small business, you would have thought so. Despite being signed into law by thenGov. George Deukmejian in October 1989 and having an effective date of July I of this year, California businesses were largely unprepared for - indeed, almost oblivious to - SB 198.

But as the July 1 deadline became imminent, the phones at Cal/OSHA began ringing off the wall. At their peak, according to one staffer, estimated calls concerning SB 198 were running about 17,000 per week. Along with requests for compliance assistance came calls decrying the very existence of the bill, and protesting its -sudden- deadline.

Why did the lengthy interval between enactment and deadline date appear so menacing, particularly to small businessmen? Might it have been that the core of SB 198 is a requirement imposed on employers to maintain a written injury and illness prevention program (IIPP) of the caliber few small companies had in place?

Program Elements

Under the law, the IIPP must include the following elements: * Identification of the person responsible for the program. * A system for ensuring that employees comply with safe and healthy work practices. * A system for communicating with employees in a manner they understand with provisions that encourage employees to inform the employer of hazards at the worksite without fear of reprisal. * Procedures for identifying and evaluating workplace hazards and conducting inspections for hazards. * A procedure to investigate workplace injuries or illnesses. * Procedures for employee training in safe work practices and hazards unique to a job.

Those seven requirements looked formidable to a lot of small companies. They had to start from scratch to put together an IIPP, and they concluded that the effort would be costly. By this time, SB 198 had caused such a furor in business circles that the inevitable fast-buck crowd had moved into the newly exploding market.

"Sen. Bill Greene, sponsor of SB 198, addressed this problem in a memo to members of the California legislature just under two weeks before enforcement of SB 198 began. "... Employers have been bombarded in recent months with propaganda designed to frighten and threaten them into buying materials and services for injury prevention programs, often far beyond what is necessary," he told his colleagues. "The press has contributed to the interest among employers, but has also passed along either incomplete or misinterpreted information. The result has been an unfounded fear of unreasonable enforcement action by Cal/OSHA. Small employers, in particular, have been affected by the propaganda...."

In fact, according to Greene, SB 198 codified a long-standing requirement for employers to have accident prevention programs. In doing so, SB 198 made two changes - requiring the program to be written and specifying who is in charge of it. Greene calls the other elements of the program "simple common sense."

Sen. Greene added that "SB 198 allows the Cal/OSHA Standards Board to adopt less stringent compliance criteria for small employers and for employers in industries with insignificant occupational safety and health hazards. The Standards Board, in adopting the regulation, provided for less stringent compliance criteria for some program elements for small employers...."

Greene reminded his colleagues, who were fielding complaints about SB 198, that the Cal/ OSHA Consultation Service offered free materials on how to comply. Greene also assured his colleagues that "there is no indication Cal / OSHA will act in an arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable manner in evaluating employers' injury prevention programs..."

The contents of Greene's memo were used extensively by some of his embattled colleagues, the Cal/ OSHA Consulting Service continued to be bombarded with inquiries, and numerous occupational safety and health consultants were enjoying a surge of new business. …

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