Prepare for OSHA visit when labor’s unhappy

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Pay extra attention to safety when your company is going through labor unrest. Reason: A new study shows that the likelihood of a federal safety inspection rises when companies are facing a strike, claims of unfair labor practices, union organizing or other labor problems.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is 6.5 times more likely to inspect a workplace with labor unrest, according to the study from the General Accounting Office (GAO), a nonpartisan watchdog of Congress.

Based on limited data from fiscal 1994 through 1998, the GAO found an overall inspection rate of 1.3 percent at U.S. companies, compared to 8.6 percent at companies with labor troubles.

Big reason for the higher rates: more complaints. A full 60 percent of inspections at companies with labor unrest were prompted by employee safety complaints. That's compared to 22 percent of all inspections.

GAO says that related factors may lead to both labor unrest and to safety and health violations.

For example, a strike may be caused in part because of unsafe working conditions, or it may lead to them if replacement workers are less trained. In addition, OSHA focuses on high-risk and more unionized industries, such as construction and manufacturing. Of course, workers in a union are likely to be more aware of their rights and to file a complaint.

To read the report, Worker Protection: OSHA Inspections at Establishments Experiencing Labor Unrest (HEHS-00-144), visit www.gao.gov or call GAO for a free paper copy at (202) 512-6000.

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