OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov.
June 14, 1995
MEMORANDUM FOR: REGIONAL ADMINISTRATORS FROM: JAMES W. STANLEY DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY SUBJECT: Complaint Processing Procedures for Dental Offices
OSHA and the American Dental Association (ADA) have engaged in a series of meetings since March 14 to discuss ADA's concerns with inspections of dental offices. ADA's efforts in promoting voluntary compliance with OSHA standards were reviewed. For example, ADA published a model hazard communication program which is being utilized by thousands of dentists. They have other publications regarding compliance with OSHA standards available and have conducted many training seminars. OSHA has participated or cooperated in many of these efforts.
Although ADA has actively promoted voluntary compliance with OSHA standards, they have also indicated that dentists have concerns about OSHA inspections. Because dental offices are generally staffed by an average of three to four people, it is sometimes difficult to provide the necessary attention to an OSHA inspection while providing service to patients. A review of enforcement data indicated that in FY 95, dental offices (SIC 8021) are not on OSHA's safety or health high hazard list. Inspections done in FY 95 have been the result of complaints.
OSHA discussed with ADA its new complaint processing procedures which have been piloted in several OSHA Area Offices. Complaints received in the pilot offices relating to dental offices have been satisfactorily resolved using the new procedures. By applying the new phone/fax process to dental offices complaints which meet the criteria for this type of handling, dentists will be given the opportunity to quickly and thoroughly respond to complaints alleging hazards in their offices, without having to undergo an on-site inspection. OSHA will be able to ensure compliance with OSHA standards without expending resources to conduct on-site inspections of dental offices which have satisfactorily responded via the phone/fax method. Complainants will receive faster resolution of their concerns. If their complaints are not satisfactorily resolved, they may request an onsite inspection.
It was mutually agreed by OSHA and ADA that adoption of these procedures to dental office complaints would be mutually beneficial. Therefore, the attached complaint processing procedures will be applied by Federal Area Offices to complaints concerning dental offices (SIC 8021) as of June 1, 1995. State plan states are encouraged to adopt similar procedures.
The new procedures listed below were developed through the Complaint Performance Improvement Program as a part of the Department of Labor/OSHA's Reinvention Effort. The participating area offices were Cleveland, Ohio and Peoria, Illinois. The selection of these offices was based on Region V's complaint volume and backlog. Through team initiatives, these offices developed and streamlined the nonformal complaint process, greatly reducing the time from complaint receipt to documented abatement of hazards. These procedures were implemented nationwide for all nonformal complaints on June 1, 1995.
Following the success of this pilot, the teams developed a procedure to use for all complaints, which has been in the testing phase in several OSHA Area Offices since March 1, 1995. The new procedures provide quicker hazard abatement and focus OSHA's inspection resources on the workplaces where they are needed. Further, this system encourages greater employee participation in the correction of complaint hazards. In addition, it continues to assure the right of employees and their representatives to an on-site inspection; however, it also encourages them to attempt resolution of lower priority complaints by the more expeditious investigation method. Finally, these procedures should allow for inspections and investigations to begin sooner than existing procedures.
Summary of New Complaint Procedures
Complaints are no longer identified as "formal" and "nonformal".
Complaints will now be classified as those which result in on-site inspections (based on complaint inspection criteria) and those which result in investigations (phone and fax).
Complaint inspections will be conducted in accordance with current guidelines in the Field Inspection Reference Manual (FIRM). Complaint investigations will be conducted by phone, fax and mail.
OSHA will no longer mail completed OSHA-7's for signature. This was determined to be an ineffective system in that the mailing of an OSHA-7 resulted in a longer period of time to inform the employer of a hazard and to complete hazard abatement.
Complaint Inspection. A complaint inspection is one which is conducted by a compliance officer at the employer's worksite and meets one or more of the criteria listed below:
* Allegations of imminent danger situations; or
* Hazards or an establishment covered by Local or National Emphasis Programs; or
* Permanently Disabling Injuries or Illnesses Occurred; or
(Injuries involving permanent disability or illnesses that are chronic and irreversible which have occurred as a result of the complaint hazard and have reasonable belief that a hazard still exists or a related hazard. Examples include: amputation, blindness, standard threshold shift in hearing, 3rd degree burns, elevated blood lead levels.)
* Significant History of Noncompliance; or
(Serious hazard complaints at establishments that have a history, within Area Office jurisdiction and within the last three years of egregious, willful or failure-to-abate citations. The Area Director may exempt a facility when the establishment has provided good quality abatement evidence and has implemented programs to prevent a recurrence of new hazards.)
* Discrimination Investigator Request; or
* Employer response to a complaint investigation is determined to be inadequate by OSHA or disputed by a complainant; or
* Complaint reduced to writing and signed by a current employee or employee representative (and complainant prefers inspection process).
Complaint Investigation. Those complaints which do not meet the above complaint inspection criteria. An investigation involves OSHA's direct and immediate contact with the employer advising of the alleged hazards by telephone and telefax. The employer is requested to provide a written response, with supporting documentation, of the results of their investigation. The employer is to post a copy of the complaint letter, along with their response, for employees to review, and is to give a copy to any collective bargaining units on site. OSHA will provide a copy of the response to the complainant. When OSHA receives an adequate response from the employer, and the complainant does not dispute the response, an on site inspection generally will not be conducted.