WASHINGTON — Visitors to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Web site can learn about the agency’s free safety consultation service. Through this service, employers can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their safety and health management systems, and qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections, says the agency.

The service is delivered by state governments using OSHA’s professional staff. Most consultations take place on-site, though limited services away from the worksite are available. Primarily targeted for smaller businesses, this safety and health consultation program is said to be completely separate from OSHA’s inspection effort. According to the agency, it is confidential; workplace information will not be reported to the OSHA inspection staff and no citations will be issued.

There is one obligation — to commit to correcting serious job safety and health hazards and to act on that commitment prior to an actual inspection. The following is a description of the service.

How To Get Started
Because consultation is a voluntary activity, you must request it by telephone call or letter. The consultant will discuss your specific needs with you and set up a visit date based on the priority assigned to your request, your work schedule, and the time needed for the consultant to adequately prepare. OSHA encourages a complete review of your firm's safety and health situation; however, if you wish you may limit the visit to one or more specific areas.

Opening Conference
When the consultant arrives at your worksite for the scheduled visit, he or she will first meet with you in an opening conference to briefly review the consultant's role and the obligation you incur as an employer.

Walk Through
Together, you and the consultant will examine conditions in your workplace. OSHA strongly encourages maximum employee participation in the walk-through. Better informed and more alert employees can more easily work with you to identify and correct potential injury and illness hazards in your workplace. Talking with employees during the walk-through helps the consultant identify and judge the nature and extent of specific hazards.

The consultant will study your entire workplace or the specific operations you designate and discuss the applicable OSHA standards. Consultants also will point out other safety or health risks that might not be cited under OSHA standards, but nevertheless may pose safety or health risks to your employees. They may suggest and even provide other measures such as self-inspection and safety and health training you and your employees can use to prevent future hazardous situations.

A comprehensive consultation also includes (1) appraisal of all mechanical and environmental hazards and physical work practices, (2) appraisal of the present job safety and health program or establishment of one, (3) a conference with management on findings, (4) a written report of recommendations and agreements, and (5) training and assistance with implementing recommendations.

Closing Conference
The consultant will then review detailed findings with you in a closing conference. You will learn not only what you need to improve, but also what you are doing right. At that time you can discuss problems, possible solutions, and abatement periods to eliminate or control any serious hazards identified during the walk-through. In rare instances, says OSHA, the consultant may find an "imminent danger" situation during the walk-through. If so, you must take immediate action to protect all employees. In certain other situations that would be judged a “serious violation” under OSHA criteria, you and the consultant are required to develop and agree to a reasonable plan and schedule to eliminate or control that hazard. The consultant will offer general approaches and options to you, and may also suggest other sources for technical help.

Abatement and Follow Through
Following the closing conference, the consultant will send you a detailed written report explaining the findings and confirming any abatement periods agreed upon. Consultants may contact you from time to time to check your progress. You may also contact them for assistance. Ultimately, OSHA requires hazard abatement so that each consultation visit achieves its objective — effective employee protection. If you fail to eliminate or control identified serious hazards (or an imminent danger) according to the plan and within the limits agreed upon, or an agreed-upon extension, the situation will be referred from consultation to an enforcement office for appropriate action. According to OSHA, this has rarely occurred in the past.

Knowledge of your workplace hazards and ways to eliminate them can only improve your own operations and the management of your firm, says the agency. You will get professional advice and assistance on the correction of workplace hazards and benefit from on-site training and assistance provided by the consultant to you and your employees. The consultant can help you establish or strengthen an employee safety and health program, making safety and health activities routine considerations rather than crisis-oriented responses.

For more information, visit www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/consult.html.

Publication date: 09/15/2003