65+ Workers’ and Immigrant Rights Organizations Voice Support for New OSHA Walkaround Rule

13 Nov 2023

For immediate release

Contact:  Melissa Moriarty, melissa@nationalcosh.org, 603.505.7135

65+ Workers’ and Immigrant Rights Organizations Voice Support for New OSHA Walkaround Rule

Assistance for Workers During Safety Inspections Needed to Overcome Language Barriers, Fear of Retaliation

Los Angeles – More than 65 organizations that provide training and support to workers in high hazard jobs submitted comments today in support of OSHA’s proposed new Walkaround Representative Designation Process rule.

Comments were due today on the proposed regulation, which will allow workers in both union and non-union workplaces to select a representative of their choosing to accompany OSHA compliance officers during safety inspections.

“Millions of U.S. workers are injured on the job every year, thousands die from sudden workplace trauma, and tens of thousands lose their lives from long-term exposure to occupational hazards,” said Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “When workers have a strong voice – including the right to choose their own representatives during OSHA inspections – we have a real chance to prevent injuries and fatalities and reduce the toll of pain and suffering on workers and their families.”

Signatories to today’s letter to U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Doug Parker include National COSH, 27 local COSH groups, the Sur Legal Cooperative, A Better Balance, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Jobs with Justice Education Fund, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Institute for Workers’ Rights, the Oregon Nurses Association, and other non-profit advocacy, workplace safety and immigrant rights groups. 

“Giving workers the right to select someone as their representative is critical to ensuring their safety and health,” said Shelly Anand, co-founder and executive director of the Sur Legal Collaborative.  “In a state like Georgia, where 96% of workplaces are non-union, workers need to ensure OSHA inspectors are able to view areas of the facility where workers are getting hurt, particularly in high hazard industries like poultry processing, construction, and manufacturing.”

“Many times workers don’t even know they have the right to participate in the walk-around process, “said Anand. “Even if they do know, however, many do not feel safe participating for fear of retaliation, especially if they are immigrants and non-English speaking. Without this rule, abusive employers will continue to fight tooth and nail to narrow the scope of OSHA inspections, preventing OSHA from viewing dangerous working conditions.”

“...[W]orkers who labor under the most dangerous conditions also face the greatest barriers to, and risks from, speaking to OSHA about work practices and hazards,” stated the signers of today’s letter. “Widespread retaliation and the disproportionate level of retaliation experienced by Black, Latinx, immigrant, and low-wage workers are well documented.” 

OSHA inspections typically take place based on industry reporting related to workplace hazards, as well as complaints received by the agency. 

Under OSHA’s proposed rule, workers in both union and non-union workplaces could select a representative of a COSH group, a workers’ center, a labor union, an attorney, industrial hygienist or other person of their choosing to accompany an OSHA compliance officer and assist in gathering authentic information from workers.

“Workers know their jobs and know the hazards that put them at risk,” said Martinez. “Sadly, workers have a well-grounded fear of retaliation against those who speak up about safety problems, including the threat of getting fired.  

“Including a representative selected by workers can overcome obstacles and improve communication during the inspection process,” said Martinez, “That creates a better opportunity to identify and correct safety problems that put workers at risk.”

With the comment period on the proposed walkaround rule now closed, OSHA will review public input and move forward with the process of issuing a final regulation.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit nationalcosh.org. Follow us @NationalCOSH on Facebook, @NationalCOSH on Twitter and @NationalCOSH on Instagram.