Employees’ right to a safe and healthy work environment is protected at both the federal and state level in the US. The national OSHA program provides a minimum standard for employers to follow and most states simply adopt an identical plan at the local level. However, a few states add another layer of complexity by making certain regulations and requirements more stringent. California is one state where environmental and consumer protections are taken very seriously. So it’s not surprising that it also has its own, enhanced Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).
Public Agencies Should Pay Attention
A number of the areas whereCal/OSHA leads the country in workplace health and safety may impact publicemployers. Here are just a few examples:
Construction Projects and Lab Environments
Employees in California are protected by a wide range of regulations in construction projects. This includes stricter permitting requirements for trenches and excavations, scaffolding, and demolition. Annual permit holders must notify OSHA before the start of any construction activity.
PEL (permissible exposure limits) are substantially lower for California workers for a variety of contaminants including acetone, masonry dust, and concrete. Bloodborne pathogen and hazard communication rules are also more stringent.
Public schools that are contaminated with asbestos continue to pose a health risk. When educationalagencies hire a consultant or contractor to handle abatement, they should make sure:
- The company they hire is registered withCal/OSHA
- All asbestos abatement technicians are properly certified
- Notifications are submitted as required by law at least 24 hours prior to even minor jobs involving asbestos
Technically, the contractor/employer handling the asbestos removal project is responsible for compliance. However, the school is also a place of employment for teachers and administrative staff who might be impacted by non-compliance. This makes it the school’s business to ensure that all the rules are being followed.
Cal/OSHA Wants to Help
DOSH works closely with public agencies as well as private employers through the OSHA Voluntary ProtectionProgram to ensure a high level of safety and compliance. The California Department of Transportation is an example of a public agency that boasts an impressive track record for recent major construction projects (building several heavy bridges) with no fatalities.
However, the offer of assistance from DOSH doesn’t mean that public agencies should enter this kind ofpartnership unprepared. It’s a better risk management policy to have a good program in place before asking OSHA to step in and provide oversight. Plus, having two sets of rules to follow can make OSHA compliance more challenging and confusing for California employers. You wouldn’t want to accidentally run afoul of DOSH when you think you are in compliance. That’s another great reason to ensure your OSHA consulting partner is experienced with Cal/OSHA requirements in addition to federal regulations.