OSHAOSHA has withdrawn a proposed rule to amend its regulations for the federally-funded On-site Consultation Program, a free and confidential health and safety advice to small- and medium-sized businesses in the U.S., with priority given to high-hazard worksites. Although the agency said it felt the proposed changes were relatively minor, stakeholders expressed concerns that they, would discourage employers from participating in the program.

"The On-site Consultation Program, including recognition through the Safety and Health Recognition Program, is a valuable way to assist small-business employers who are working to improve their workplaces," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "We remain committed to encouraging participation in this program."

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for 29 CFR 1908, Consultation Agreement, published Sept. 3, 2010, provided clarification of the length of the exemption period provided to "recognized" sites that have been removed from OSHA's programmed inspection schedule and the initiation of certain unprogrammed inspections at both sites that have achieved recognition and sites undergoing a consultation visit.

It covered high priority inspections; when OSHA could conduct one at a workplace that has achieved or is working toward Safety and Health Recognition Program (SHARP) recognition and what type of high-priority federal enforcement inspection would be allowed to interrupt an ongoing consultation visit.

The proposed rule also addressed the length of time an employer that has qualified for SHARP may be exempted from OSHA's Programmed Inspection Schedule

The notice of proposed rulemaking was published on Sept. 3, 2010. Among the comments OSHA received were concerns that the changes would increase OSHA enforcement activities at work sites that have already demonstrated excellence in their safety and health management systems. Some stakeholders worried that OSHA was trying to eliminate exemptions entirely or take incentives away.

"OSHA did not intend any of these results," the Federal Register notice reads. "If the small changes OSHA proposed could have the effect of discouraging participation in the programs, the Agency does not believe it is worth amending the rule."

The Consultation Program assists employers who may lack the resources to employ safety professionals, to comply with the requirements of the OSH Act, and to create safer and healthier workplaces. Trained safety and health professionals, provided either by state agencies or public universities, work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance, and assist in establishing safety and health management systems. On-site Consultation services are separate from OSHA's enforcement activities and do not result in penalties or citations.

Under the Consultation Program, employers who successfully complete a comprehensive on-site 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 status in OSHA's SHARP. Exemplary employers who receive SHARP status receive an exemption from OSHA's programmed inspection schedule during a specified period.