OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program, Explained
Enforcement visits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can be stressful, even when every reasonable effort to maximize employee safety has been made. For many, the idea of inviting an OSHA inspection sounds as appealing as filling out permitting paperwork, but OSHA’s voluntary On-Site Consultation Program has its benefits.
Although the program has existed in several formats since 1975, it is often misunderstood. In this article, we’ll explain what the program is, how it works, and its benefits to participants.
OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program
OSHA’s On-Site Consultation (OSC) Program offers free, confidential occupational safety and health services for small and medium-sized businesses throughout the United States and in several U.S. territories. An average of 28,514 establishments in the private sector used the program per year between 2012 and 2016, according to OSC Program data.
The goal of the program is to help employers reduce workplace injuries and illnesses by identifying and correcting workplace hazards and providing advice to comply with OSHA standards. Consultants also assist with the establishment or improvement of safety and health programs, which have been shown to reduce the number and severity of workplace injuries and illnesses and associated costs.
Participating employers may qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections. However, participating in a consultation does not guarantee that a workplace will pass an OSHA inspection.
How the program works
OSHA’s OSC Program operates separately from the organization’s enforcement efforts, which means the consultation doesn’t result in penalties or citations. However, the employer must agree to correct any serious hazards identified during the consultation within a specified time period agreed upon by the consultant and employer. Employers who fail to correct imminent dangers or serious hazards may be referred to an OSHA enforcement office, though OSHA said this has rarely occurred in the past.
Otherwise, the consultations are confidential, meaning your company’s information and information about your workplace that you provide or the consultant uncovers will not generally be reported to OSHA inspection staff.
Although funded primarily by OSHA, the program is administered by local agencies or universities, with consultants from these organizations working directly with employers. Because the program is voluntary, employers interested in participating must request a consultation using OSHA’s Consultation Directory (osha.gov/consultation/directory-text). Priority is given to high-hazard worksites.
After a consultation has been requested, the consultant will work with the employer to discuss their needs and set up a date to visit the worksite. It is possible to limit the visit to one or more specific problems, though OSHA encourages a complete review. Although most consultations occur on-site, limited services are available remotely.
The visit begins with an opening conference to discuss the consultant’s role and the employer’s obligations related to the consultation. Then, a representative from the employer and the consultant will examine conditions of the worksite. The consultant completes a workplace audit of hazards using OSHA’s Safety and Health Program Assessment Worksheet. They will also point out risks that might not be cited under OSHA standards. The consultant may talk with employees during the walk-through to identify and judge the nature and extent of specific hazards.
Once the walk-through is over, the consultant discusses findings with the employer and recommends improvements. They may also suggest or provide other measures, like self-inspection or safety and health training, and sources for additional technical help. This is also the time to develop and agree to a reasonable plan and schedule to correct serious hazards. In rare instances where a consultant finds an imminent danger, employers must take immediate action to protect employees. After the closing conference, the consultant may reach out to check on an employer’s progress and the employer is welcome to contact the consultant for further assistance.
OSHA enforcement program evaluations have shown that employers’ injury rates fall in years following an OSHA enforcement inspection. Because the process of an OSHA inspection and a consultation visit share similar features, OSHA expects that its consultation visits similarly reduce injury rates in subsequent years.
Between 2012 and 2016, the program identified an average of 109,582 serious and imminent danger hazards each year at the facilities they visited. OSHA said the identification and resolution of these hazards reduce injury and illness rates, improve morale, and offer economic benefits to workers and employers.
OSHA estimates the OSC Program generates national economic benefits of approximately $1.3 billion per year, according to a 2018 analysis of the benefits of the consultation program. This includes $728.2 million in benefits to workers avoiding injuries as a result of the program, $317.6 million in benefits to employers from avoided indirect costs, and $288.7 million in benefits resulting from reduced worker’s compensation claims, among other savings.