OSHA Enforces Eligibility Limits for Recognition Program

By Roy Maurer Feb 9, 2015
The decision to strictly enforce limitations on the size of employers that are eligible for a popular Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) small business recognition program is being viewed by some as a disincentive to participate.

OSHA is coming under criticism because of changes it made to its Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP), said Tressi Cordaro, a shareholder in the Washington, D.C., regional office of Jackson Lewis. The details were outlined in a November 2014 memo to regional administrators but not publicized on OSHA’s website.

Employers who successfully complete a comprehensive OSHA-administered onsite consultation visit, correct all hazards identified during the visit, and implement an ongoing safety and health program to identify and correct workplace hazards may achieve SHARP status.

“One of SHARP’s appeals is that participation is free and companies meeting all the eligibility requirements are exempt from programmed OSHA inspections for two or three years,” said Cordaro.

The memo clarifies that the size requirements for participation in SHARP are employers with 250 or fewer onsite employees and fewer than 500 enterprisewide employees. It replaces a 2012 guidance which allowed “additional flexibility” when considering employers for the program who did not meet the size requirements. In those cases, eligible worksites belonging to corporate employers exceeding the enterprisewide cap could appeal for approval from the OSHA regional administrator or state plan official. The intent of the 2012 guidance was “to consider for SHARP the subsidiaries of larger companies that did not receive adequate support from their parent company for establishing a safety program.”

Agency Need to Focus

OSHA stated in the memo that it is strictly enforcing the eligibility requirements due to “the significant amount of time” spent helping companies meet SHARP status criteria. “OSHA strongly believes that the resources of the onsite consultation SHARP program must be focused solely on small businesses,” the agency said.

States with approved OSHA state plans are also required to enforce the limits.

“Although companies with more than 500 corporatewide employees are now exempt from participating in the program, this does not include individual franchisees which are not owned by the corporation but are operated as distinct corporate entities,” noted Cordaro.

OSHA has come under further fire because the memorandum applies retroactively, she added.Companies currently in the program who are no longer eligible for SHARP will not be grandfathered in but will instead be encouraged to participate in the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), an alternative consultation program aimed at larger employers, Cordaro said.

“Employers wishing to participate in VPP undergo a vigorous evaluation but may also be exempt from programmed OSHA inspections while they maintain VPP status,” she said.

The agency is allowing SHARP sites transitioning to VPP to remain in the program while they await completion of their VPP evaluation, provided they submit their application by November 2015 and continue to meet other eligibility requirements.

‘Discouraging Workplace Safety’

There are fewer than 2,000 worksites with SHARP status in the United States. Sixty-eight of them are in Maine, the most of any New England state. Several of those sites are now on the chopping block, drawing the ire of state officials.

“Our program is strong and this change would undercut the great strides we have made in lowering worker injury rates … and [will result in] discouraging workplace safety,” said Maine’s Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette, in a statement.

Governor Paul LePage also opposed the changes. “Maine is committed to being business-friendly and creating opportunity for our workers. The SHARP program does both by keeping workers safe and lowering associated costs. Telling businesses you’re in one day and then you’re out is the wrong way to show our appreciation for their presence in our state and their commitment to worker safety,” he said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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