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OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration agency, has proposed a rule change that will allow union representatives to join inspection walk-throughs. The change would be an open acknowledgement from the government agency that unions have safety right.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recently proposed a rule change that would heighten scrutiny during workplace inspections and offer a more thorough approach to worker safety. The rule would allow authorized third parties— including union reps —  to accompany an OSHA inspector during a job site walkaround. The proposal reflects the  growing recognition that unions play an indispensable role in protecting workers.


The crux of the rule change is the removal of a stipulation that an accompanying representative must be a direct employee of the employer being inspected (oftentimes, union reps are not). It would eliminate potential conflicts of interest that arise when someone on an employer's payroll is assisting OSHA in inspecting their boss.


Under the new OSHA rules, any representative authorized by employees could accompany an OSHA official during their inspection. This opens the door to union reps offering their expertise during workplace safety inspections, even on open-shop jobs on which union workers are not employed. The rule change would bring to bear the full weight of union training and safety culture on hazardous job sites across the country.

By inviting authorized union members on inspections of non-union sites, OSHA is acknowledging unions have safety right.

As champions of worker safety, construction unions have applauded this development. The rule change would help ensure safe conditions for all construction workers. North America’s Building Trades Union President Sean McGarvey told Construction Dive: “NABTU supports DOL and OSHA ensuring construction workers have safe workplaces including ensuring that our union representatives, who may not be direct employees of the project employer, may accompany and assist OSHA in an inspection.” 


Big Business and Their Henchmen Push Back

Meanwhile, groups like the Associated Building Contractors (ABC), a non-union construction mouthpiece, oppose the new rule, claiming it would give unions undue influence. And large legal firms that represent management, are drafting “survival guides” for their clients, advising them to establish safety committees and refrain from having workers do “high hazardous activities” in plain view while OSHA is present. 

Given the long line of tragedies that disproportionately occur on job sites without union oversight, there is real potential for this rule change to save lives. OSHA is accepting comments from the public through October 30th. 


Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.

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