OSHA has proposed to make significant changes to its On-site Consultation program.  This popular program, in OSHA’s own words, "provides well-trained professional safety and health personnel, at no cost and upon request of an employer, to conduct worksite visits to identify occupational hazards and provide advice on compliance with OSHA regulations and standards."  Consultation services are provided through cooperative agreements between the states and OSHA — with federal funding.  Countless small employers, in particular, have taken advantage of the program to proactively address safety and health hazards in their worksites.

One of the benefits of the On-site Consultation program is that employers who willingly participate in the program may be eligible for deferrals from OSHA programmed inspections, such as those conducted per OSHA’s Site Specific Targeting Program.  By doing so, OSHA is rewarding companies who are in good faith addressing safety and health hazards and implementing a safety and health management system.

In this proposed rule, OSHA is proposing to limit the period of time that employers may benefit from the programmed inspection deferral — to only one year.  The proposal also provides for a further exception from the programmed inspection exemption for "other critical inspections" the Assistant Secretary of OSHA determines are necessary.  The proposal does not clearly define what are meant by "critical inspections," but notes that the exception would be applied rarely.

Employers are encouraged to submit comments on this proposed rule, particularly those employers that may have benefited from the program.  In particular, OSHA is seeking comments on the extent to which these changes would affect the willingness of employers to participate in the On-site Consultation program.  Comments are due by November 2, 2010.