Cal/OSHA Reforms Reduce Burdens, Preserve Level of Safety
In the flurry of legislative activity last year aimed at improving California’s economic competitiveness, some significant reforms involving Cal/OSHA requirements have received less attention than they are due.
The reforms signed by Governor Wilson significantly reduce the burdens on businesses-without reducing safety-by focusing efforts on safety rather than needless bureaucratic requirements.
These reforms center around Senate Bill 198, which the California Legislature enacted in 1989 and became effective in July, 1991. SB 198 requires every employer to develop and implement a written injury and illness prevention plan (IIPP). It applied to all businesses, regardless if they had only one employee or operated in a low-hazard industry. If an employer did not have an IIPP, Cal/OSHA could assess a $7,000 fine.
In implementing SB 198, however, it became clear that the law, although well-intentioned, was overly broad and burdensome. Many employers, especially small employers, lacked the expertise to develop an effective program. These businesses were forced to spend thousands of dollars on professional consultants to develop a plan.
In addition to the costs, employers in low-hazard industries saw little justification in these costs because their businesses pose little hazard to employees. Certainly, for instance, an auto plant or a sawmill poses more risk to employees than a real estate or insurance office. Businesses with only seasonal or intermittent employees also were required to develop an IIPP.
The Council on California Competitiveness, appointed by Governor Pete Wilson to identify ways to reduce regulation without reducing desired purposes, found great potential for improvement in SB 198. The Council found that SB 198 “is imposing unnecessary and unproductive costs on many businesses for which application of the program makes little sense. Literally millions of dollars in needless hard costs and lost productivity will result from the current application of this program to businesses whose work environments pose virtually no risk to the safety of their employees.”
The Governor followed this recommendation and signed three bills last year reforming SB 198 requirements while maintaining effective injury and illness prevention. Businesses in low-hazard industries and employers with seasonal or intermittent employees may use a model IIPP designed by Cal/OSHA. This reform will eliminate the need for employers to incur hard dollar costs developing individual programs.
Cal/OSHA has moved quickly to implement these reforms. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health recently published model programs for employers with intermittent workers and for non-high hazard employers. These model plans currently are available.
Two other notable changes also were enacted. For new businesses or businesses that have just moved to California, a one-year moratorium now applies on assessment of civil penalties for not having an IIPP. Many potential employers have been deterred by Cal/OSHA’s reputation for tough safety enforcement. This moratorium will provide a window that will alleviate that concern and give employers time to learn safety requirements before the threat of fines. Cal/OSHA’s ability to mitigate penalties related to IIPPs also has been restored if the employer acted in good faith.
A final reform concerns recordkeeping requirements. Businesses with 20 or fewer employees and not on the list of high hazard industries will be relieved of many of SB 198’s burdensome recordkeeping mandates. Those employers will be required only to keep only limited written records: the name of the person or persons responsible for implementing the IIPP, records of periodic inspections, and records of employee training.