Cal/OSHA says federal audit off mark

AP News
Posted: Oct 28, 2010 7:37 PM
Cal/OSHA says federal audit off mark

Officials at the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health say last month's federal audit calling for better training and quicker complaint resolution missed the mark, relying on outdated information and poor communication for many of its criticisms.

In a formal response to federal labor officials provided to The Associated Press on Thursday, Cal/OSHA Director John Duncan pledges to undertake some corrective measures outlined by the audit but said federal auditors seem to have misunderstood the state's procedures in several instances.

Last month, the U.S. Labor Department released an audit of the state audit identified dozens of deficiencies in Cal/OSHA's programs.

Federal officials said Thursday that Cal/OSHA's response is under review and did not immediately provide comment.

Duncan's letter says the audit reflects "less than optimal communication between auditors and Cal/OSHA staff," and auditors relied on outdated information in their less than rosy assessment of the state occupational safety agency.

Cal/OSHA chief Len Welsh said in an interview Thursday that the federal audit didn't provide documentation for many of its claims, making it difficult to pinpoint failures and make effective changes.

Cal/OSHA could change the way it responds to complaints as a result of the audit's criticism that the state takes an average of 24.5 days to initiate an investigation after a complaint is received, a process that should only take three days.

To speed up the process, Welsh said the department may stop sending on-site inspectors to workplaces for low-priority complaints _ those alleging non-serious hazards _ to reduce inspection workload. Cal/OSHA can make the change unilaterally, Welsh said, but it wants to vet it with stakeholders before changing protocol.

"As time goes on and resources dry up we're going to have to find ourselves prioritizing what we do more and more," Welsh said.

The federal report was also critical of the state's handling of fatality investigations, saying that in 23 of 52 cases, Cal/OSHA inspectors made no contact with victims' families. Welsh said the audit didn't identify the instances when that occurred, but staff has undergone mandatory training to explain the requirement to communicate with victims' families.

Welsh said the state is hiring three new trainers to improve education within the agency.

He said state officials are planning follow-up meetings with federal officials to discuss the audit and improve communication.