More farmers use services of Cal/OSHA Consultation


Issue Date: November 3, 2010

To stay on top of workplace safety regulations and as a means of receiving an audit without consequence to ensure they are complying with those standards, farmers and other businesses may take advantage of on-site visits offered by the consultation unit of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health—Cal/OSHA.

Cal/OSHA Consultation Service Regional Manager Michael Alvarez oversees the unit that helps farms and other businesses develop workplace safety and health programs to prevent employee injuries and illnesses. Alvarez reports that this year, Consultation has seen a considerable increase in the number of farming and processing operations that have opted to take advantage of Cal/OSHA Consultation Service programs. Ag Alert® reporter Christine Souza asked Alvarez about what the Consultation Service has to offer and what farmers might expect when it comes to taking part in an audit.

What is the function of Cal/OSHA Consultation and what services does it provide to employers, specifically in agriculture?

Consultation's priorities start with smaller employers that usually have limited resources. Priority is given to those establishments in high-hazard industries such as agriculture and construction and/or those with high experience modification rates, usually over 125 percent. Consultation's professional staff focuses their assistance on helping employers develop and implement an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Program, also known as an IIPP.

How does Consultation differ from Cal/OSHA Enforcement?

Consultation is the educational unit of Cal/OSHA and works proactively with employers. Consultation does not issue citations or penalties and their assistance is confidential from Enforcement. The only catch is that employers are obligated to correct hazards and violations found during the Consultation visit. This is agreed upon during the opening conference. Consultation is staffed with professional safety and health consultants and their service is free of charge. Consultation may not service employers with any open enforcement activity or citations, which include citations under appeal.

What benefits can agricultural employers expect to receive from working with Cal/OSHA Consultation?

One of the primary benefits is having a safer work environment. This is achieved by having a better understanding of implementing an effective IIPP and safe work practices. Employers will gain a wealth of information and knowledge that includes on-site assistance and training. After receiving Consultation services, many employers have experienced substantial cost savings through injury reductions. Many employers have also received special recognition from Consultation in the form of awards and partnerships.

By deciding to participate in a Cal/OSHA Consultation program, to what exactly is a farmer or a farm labor contractor agreeing?

To do the right thing. Safety is good business and the vast majority of our clients want to provide a safe and healthful workplace. The agreement is to work collectively and seek and fix any unsafe work conditions and work practices, to develop and implement an effective IIPP and Heat Illness Prevention Program. For on-site assistance, consultants conduct an opening conference to explain the process in detail. This is followed by a comprehensive review of the IIPP and other required records.

The on-site assistance includes identifying unsafe conditions and work practices that usually contribute to accidents and injuries. The employer agrees to fix these problems within the agreed period of time. Consultation mails the employer a written report on the findings and the employer mails back the corrective actions taken. It's that simple.

Through the consultation process, what if hazards are found? Will this information be turned over to Cal/OSHA Enforcement?

Consultation is separate from Enforcement in terms of our services being confidential. All findings and reports are confidential from Enforcement. The Consultation program is structured to gain your trust and confidence and provide the most professional service possible. However, if an employer elects not to correct a serious hazard—which seldom ever happens—then Consultation has the obligation to refer this to Enforcement.

Please describe Cal/OSHA Consultation Partnership Programs.

Starting with the Golden Gate, this recognition award is given to an employer with a complete and effective IIPP. This is available through a complete on-site evaluation by Consultation. Growers, farm labor contractors and other agricultural establishments may qualify.

The "B" level program is called SHARP, which stands for the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program. This offers both a recognition award and a two-year Enforcement exemption from programmed inspections for the given, fixed site. The third and highest level is the VPP or Voluntary Protection Program award, which offers a three-year Enforcement exemption from programmed inspections.

Are you seeing an increased amount of participation in Consultation's Partnership Programs and if so, to what do you attribute the increase?

Agricultural participation has increased dramatically in the past few years. For example, fewer than 200 employers used Consultation in 2007, with fewer than 10 employers in our partnership program. This has increased to over 400 employers using Consultation this year, with over 67 new additions to the Golden Gate, SHARP and VPP recognition and partnership programs. Consultation continues to service a diverse array of farm labor contractors, growers and farmers, including those of Hispanic and Hmong backgrounds. The increase is largely due to Consultation having an aggressive outreach campaign and creating partnerships with agricultural associations such as AgSafe and Farm Bureau and several insurance groups. Vigorous activity by Cal/OSHA Enforcement has certainly increased awareness about the need to have an effective IIPP and Heat Illness Prevention Program.

How many on-site visits did Consultation conduct this year?

Consultation conducted over 2,650 on-site visits this year, of which 422 were agricultural work places. This represents approximately 16 percent of Consultation's total on-site visits. This is a significant increase from past years' services to agriculture, which averaged about 10 percent of total visits. Remember that on-site assistance must be requested by the employer; unlike Cal/OSHA Enforcement, Consultation cannot visit a work site unannounced.

For information about Cal/OSHA Consultation and the specific programs it offers, visit www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/consultation.html. To locate a Cal/OSHA Consultation service area office, call the agency's toll-free number: 800-963-9424.

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