Bargaining for Health and Safety

Why should you include health and safety protection in your collective bargaining agreement? Doesn't the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) provide on-the-job protection? Aren't federal employees covered by OSHA?

While federal employees are indeed protected by OSHA regulations through Executive Order 12196, OSHA does not inspect federal workplaces routinely, only when there is a fatality or many worker complaints. Even when OSHA does an inspection and finds violations, OSHA cannot fine federal agencies. When there is little recourse for employees to get help with health and safety problems, it may be helpful to have health and safety provisions in collective bargaining agreements. The union can negotiate the provisions of the contract and file a grievance if they are not followed.

What should the contract include?

  • General health and safety protection for recognized hazards and assessment of other hazards
  • Labor-management cooperation or partnership, i.e., joint health and safety committees
  • Union participation in developing, implementing and evaluating the program
  • Agency compliance with OSHA regulations, e.g., hearing protection in high-noise areas
  • Developing programs for hazards for which there is no OSHA standard
  • Personal protective equipment provided at no cost to the employee
  • Employee right to refuse hazardous work (outline circumstances)
  • Employee compliance with requirements and discipline for non-compliance
  • Return to work policy for injured employees, i.e., restricted/limited duty
  • Procedures/mechanism for evaluating "new" hazards (i.e., ones that were not addressed in the existing program) and developing preventive measures. For example, violence in the workplace
  • Accident reporting and early medical intervention
  • Emergency procedures

Specific provisions

  • Eye examinations for employees who work with computer VDTs
  • Ergonomics program, including hazard analysis and workstation redesign
  • Indoor air quality evaluations
  • Union access to records, e.g., OSHA injury and illness records, medical surveillance records, employee exposure and training records
  • Right to conduct employee surveys
  • Union authority to stop dangerous work
  • Health promotion programs, such as smoking cessation, diet and nutrition, and other lifestyle health issues.

Of course, these are only ideas on what you can include. Under 29 CFR 1960 Basic Program Elements for Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health Programs and Related Matters, employee representatives have the right to participate in an OSHA inspection. However, if the agency has not been cooperative on this issue in the past, you may want to negotiate to include it in the collective bargaining agreement.

Negotiate for items that will strengthen your health and safety program. Don't try to rewrite the OSH Act into your contract.

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