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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced today in the Federal Register it will not routinely request employers' voluntary self-audits of workplace safety and health conditions in making inspections.
"Voluntary self-audits, when properly conducted, can help employers discover and correct safety and health hazards, reduce penalties, and prevent similar violations in the future," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Charles N. Jeffress. "OSHA's policy statement recognizes the value voluntary self-audits have for employers' safety and health compliance efforts. At the same time it also recognizes that access to relevant information is important to OSHA's inspection and enforcement activities."
The statement published today clarifies that OSHA will not routinely request voluntary self-audit reports at the initiation of an inspection. Where an audit identifies a hazardous condition in the workplace and the employer promptly takes corrective action, OSHA will not treat the audit report as evidence of a willful violation and will treat the audit as evidence of good faith, which may entitle the employer to a penalty reduction
OSHA includes in many of its standards an explicit requirement that employers conduct self-audits to determine their compliance. In addition to these required audits, many conscientious employers undertake voluntary self-audits to improve safe and healthful work environments and to ensure compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act. There is little dispute about mandatory audits, but some businesses have contested OSHA's right to access their voluntary self-audits. Employers complain that OSHA's use of self-audits in enforcement proceedings discourages employers from conducting voluntary self-audits.
There is no evidence that a significant number of employers have stopped doing self-audits or that OSHA has discouraged employers from initiating them. Nevertheless, OSHA developed its policy statement to provide general guidance on the circumstances under which OSHA intends to exercise its authority to obtain voluntary self-audit documents during the course of an inspection.
HIGHLIGHTS OF POLICY STATEMENT
No Routine Request for Voluntary Self-Audit Reports
OSHA will not routinely request voluntary self-audit reports at the initiation of an inspection. In other words, it will not use such reports as a means of identifying hazards to focus inspection activity.
However, if the agency has an independent basis to believe that a specific safety or health hazard warranting investigation exists, OSHA may exercise its authority to obtain the relevant portions of voluntary self-audit reports relating to a hazard.
Safe Harbor--No Use of Voluntary Self-Audit Reports as Evidence of Willfulness
A violation is considered willful if the employer has intentionally disregarded a requirement of the OSH Act, shown reckless disregard of whether it was in violation of the Act, or demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety and health. Consistent with the prevailing law on willfulness, if an employer is in good faith responding to a violative condition discovered through a voluntary self-audit and OSHA discovers the condition during an inspection, OSHA will not use the voluntary self-audit as evidence that the violation is willful.
This policy is intended to apply when the employer, discovering a violative condition through a voluntary self-audit, promptly takes diligent steps to correct the violation and provides effective interim employee protection where necessary.
Good Faith Penalty Reduction
Under the OSH Act, an employer's good faith normally reduces the amount of penalty that would be assessed for a violation. OSHA's Field Inspection Reference Manual provides up to a 25% penalty reduction for employers who have implemented a safety and health program, including self-audits. OSHA will treat a voluntary self-audit that results in prompt action to correct violations found as well as steps to prevent similar violations as strong evidence of an employer's good faith with respect to matters covered by the voluntary self-audit. The policy will not apply to repeat violations.
In drafting the statement, OSHA obtained informal comments from lawyers representing labor and management, the AFL-CIO, several members of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health and several industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, the Labor Policy Association and the Organization Resources Counselors.
The policy statement is published in the Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1999, issue of the Federal Register.
The text of this news release is on the Internet World Wide Web at http://www.osha.gov. Information on this news release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: 202-693-1999.
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