Update About OSHA’s Worker Walkaround Designation Process Rulemaking

By Eric Conn, Mark Trapp, and Darius Rohani-Shukla

Back in Q1 of 2023, OSHA revealed plans for a rulemaking for a Worker Walkaround Representative Designation Process Rule, and we have been tracking the rulemaking on the OSHA Defense Report blog since that time.  Specifically, the Worker Walkaround Representative Designation Process rulemaking proposes to amend the existing regulation at 29 CFR § 1903.8(c), which governs participation by third parties in OSHA inspections as employee representatives. The proposed rule changes three key components of the existing regulation:

  1. Changing the existing language that historically has generally limited employee representation during an OSHA inspection to individuals who are employees of the employer being inspected, to now allow non-employee third parties to act as representatives; and
  2. Expanding the types of third parties permitted to represent employees during OSHA inspections. The existing regulation allows a non-employee “such as an industrial hygienist or a safety engineer” to accompany an OSHA compliance officer during an inspection when it “is reasonably necessary to the conduct of an effective and thorough physical inspection of the workplace[.]” The specific reference in the regulation to these technical credential has meant that only representatives with relevant technical expertise, credentials, or unique language skills have been permitted to accompany OSHA.  The new Proposal eliminates the limitation to these technical experts, and indicates that a third party representative may be “reasonably necessary” because of “relevant knowledge, skills, or experience with hazards or conditions in the workplace or similar workplaces, or language skills.”
  3. The proposed rule may also expand the role these third party representatives can play during the inspection. The OSH Act and the existing regulation speak in terms of the employee representative “accompanying” OSHA during the walkaround phase of the inspection, but the proposed amended rule introduces the term “participate,” which could mean OSHA intends for these third parties to have a more active role; e.g., attending and asking questions during private employee interviews, reviewing the employer’s records produced to OSHA, etc.

Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA and Labor & Employment Practice Groups formed the Employers Walkaround Representative Rulemaking Coalition, composed of a broad and diverse group of employers and trade associations representing many industries, including retail, manufacturing, petroleum refining, construction, food manufacturing and distribution, agricultural, and more, with millions of employees across thousands of workplaces in every state in the US. On behalf of that rulemaking coalition, we recently submitted a comprehensive set of written comments to OSHA’s rulemaking docket.  In this post, we provide you with a summary of our comments that detailed:

  1. The concerning ways the proposed rule would impact employers;
  2. How the proposed rule conflicts with the OSH Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and the US Constitution; and
  3. How the rulemaking process has violated the Administrative Procedure Act and Executive Order 12866

The written comments submitted on behalf of the Employers Walkaround Representative Rulemaking Coalition, available here (https://www.regulations.gov/comment/OSHA-2023-0008-1976), present our concerns that the Proposal would open a flood gate to a multitude of workplace disruptions.  Specifically, we explained how: Continue reading

OSHA Proposes Rule that May Allow Union Organizers and Plaintiffs’ Attorneys to “Walk Around” Workplaces

By Eric J. Conn and Mark Trapp

Earlier this month, OSHA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a “Worker Walkaround Representative Designation Process” Rule, which would expand the circumstances when non-employees, particularly union representatives at non-union workplaces, can accompany OSHA inspectors during enforcement inspections.

The proposed rule would allow union representatives, other labor or community activist groups, and even plaintiffs’ attorneys (or their expert witnesses) direct and early access to non-union workplaces and employees, potentially as a front for organizing campaigns where they otherwise would not have access or to advance personally injury lawsuits. Similarly, the rule could allow competitors, contractors, or others onsite to employers’ detriment.

The Washington Legal Foundation featured an article by Eric J. Conn of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice and Mark Trapp of CMC’s Labor & Employment Practice about this development. Here is a link to the WLF article.

Employers OSHA Inspection Walkaround Rulemaking Coalition

With that backdrop, we understand that employers have a strong interest in having a seat at the table for this rulemaking.  To that end, Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Practice and Labor Law Practice are collaborating to organize a fee-based company-anonymous coalition of employers and trade groups to advocate for the most reasonable possible fed OSHA regulation about third party participation in OSHA inspections. Continue reading

Join CMC’s Employer Coalition to Work on OSHA’s Inspection Walkaround Rulemaking (Expanding Union Access to Non-Union Workplaces)

By Eric J. Conn and Mark Trapp

We wanted to reach out to notify you about OSHA’s latest gift to organized labor.  Consistent with the Biden Administration’s promise to be “the most labor-friendly administration in history,” last week, OSHA revealed its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking about the “Worker Walkaround Representative Designation Process.”  Specifically, OSHA proposes to amend 29 CFR 1903.8(c), which is the regulation governing the rights of third parties to participate as employee representatives in OSHA inspections. The NPRM for OSHA’s Inspection Walkaround Rule would greatly expand when non-employees can accompany OSHA inspectors during physical inspections at your workplaces.  Specifically, the proposed rule would open the door to third parties, including specifically union representatives even at non-union workplaces, if the OSHA compliance officer determines the third party would positively impact the inspection.

History of Union Access to Workplaces During OSHA Inspections

As a reminder, The Obama/Biden Administration tried to contort the meaning of the Inspection Walkaround regulation by granting union representatives the ability to participate in OSHA inspections at non-union workplaces by way of a formal letter of interpretation in February 2013.  The interpretation letter responded to this inquiry by a labor union: “May workers at a worksite without a collective bargaining agreement designate a person affiliated with a union or a community organization to act on their behalf as a walkaround representative?”

OSHA has an existing regulation at 29 C.F.R. § 1903.8(c) that speaks to this issue, and it sets a strong bias against third party participation in OSHA inspections, unless the third party has some special skill (such as industrial hygienist or a language translator) that OSHA is lacking.  Here is the existing regulatory text: Continue reading