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Health & safety: Understanding North Carolina’s OSHA law

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Preventing Workplace Violence

In 1970, the federal government passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Then in 1973, North Carolina passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina (OSHANC).

The North Carolina act has its own administrative and review procedures that aren’t always similar to its federal counterpart.

By agreement with the federal government, workplace safety in North Carolina is regulated by the state, rather than by the federal government. Thus, the North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) enforces OSHANC. That doesn’t mean, however, that the federal OSHA doesn’t come into play.

OSHANC, which is modeled after OSHA, is designed to ensure a safe workplace for employees.

Promoting workplace safety

NCDOL’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) administers OSHANC and promotes workplace safety. It has five main bureaus:

  • The Agricultural Safety and Health Bureau conducts preoccupancy inspections for migrant labor camps and ensures compliance with agricultural safety and health standards.
  • The Compliance Bureau inspects businesses to ensure compliance with workplace safety and health standards.
  • The Consultative Services Bureau provides free, on-site consultation on request to help employers comply with workplace safety and health standards.  The bureau also administers three workplace health and safety recognition programs.
  • The Bureau of Education, Training and Technical Assistance conducts safety schools, workshops, speaking engagements, training events and booth displays. The bureau also reviews the federal standards for adoption by the state and coordinates state rule-making activities.
  • The Bureau of Planning, Statistics and Information Management provides statistical data and manages inspection case file disclosures.

How inspections work

But DOSH’s mission isn’t just about safety programs—employers also have to face DOSH inspections. Inspections may occur because of: 

  • A workplace fatality
  • An accident involving several employees
  • A widely publicized accident
  • An employee complaint
  • An imminently dangerous condition observed by an inspector.

However, about half of inspections are random checks of employers’ facilities designed to ensure adequate health and safety measures are in place.

Inspections are normally conducted without notice. Here are the steps:

1. A compliance officer will present credentials and request permission to inspect the site or facility.

2. If permission is denied, the compliance officer will seek an administrative inspection warrant. (If that occurs and a citation is later issued, the employer probably will not be awarded the possible 10% reduction of any penalties for cooperating with the inspection.)

3. Once the inspection proceeds, the compliance officer will have an opening conference to discuss the nature and scope of the inspection.

4. Generally, the compliance officer will request copies of safety manuals, safety reports, occupational injury and illness records and other records that may be required for the particular employer type.

5. There will also be a walk around with a company representative, where the compliance officer looks for hazards and violations, takes pictures and interviews employees.

The inspection process ends with a closing conference, which addresses apparent violations, potential citations, potential penalties and periods of abatement for violations.

Following the inspection, the compliance officer will review his or her observations and recommendations with a district supervisor. After that, a decision is made about possible citations, which must be issued within six months of the alleged violation.

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