A SUMMARY OF THE PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT RISK REDUCTION LAW
The Public Employment Risk Reduction Law of January, 1993 requires public employers to furnish places of employment that are "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm" to public employees. A newly-created Division of Occupational Safety and Health will enforce occupational safety and health standards on Ohio's public employers, including state-supported universities. A public employer's facilities can be inspected when complaints are filed, and citations can be given. In addition to following safety standards, employers must keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses, and must monitor employee exposures to hazardous materials. The law provides a mechanism for public employees to refuse work due to unsafe working conditions. Variances from standards can be granted to employers. he following discussion summarizes the new law by topics.
TIME TABLES FOR IMPLEMENTATION
- By July, 1993: Public Employees Risk Reduction Commission is appointed.
- Effective July 1, 1993: right to refuse work provision goes into effect.
- By July 1, 1994: adopt federal OSHA standards.
- Starting July 1, 1994: OSHA standards apply to public employers and public employees.
- Until January 1, 1995: public employers can request free (no penalty) inspections.
- After January 1, 1995: citations can be given
ORGANIZATIONS AFFECTED BY THE LAW
- The law applies to all types of public employers, including counties, cities, townships and villages, park districts, school districts, state agencies and boards, and state colleges and universities. However, the bill specifically excludes fire fighters, peace officers, and employees of correctional facilities.
ESTABLISHMENT AND ENFORCEMENT OF SAFETY STANDARDS
- This legislation creates the Division of Occupational Safety and Health within the Department of Industrial Relations. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health will enforce safety standards applicable to public employers.
- Ohio will adopt standards of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. After adopting these initial standards, Ohio can adopt or amend new federal standards, adopt standards that are not covered under federal law, or decline to adopt new federal standards if the Public Employment Risk Reduction Advisory Commission determines that existing Ohio standards provide adequate protection. Public employees and public employers are equally represented on this 16-member Commission, which includes one representative from the Inter-University Council (IUC). In addition to determining standards, the Public Employment Risk Reduction Advisory Commission will develop rules for the operation and enforcement of these standards, including granting of variances (discussed later).
- Ohio's public employment risk reduction law gives special emphasis to the adoption of rules dealing with toxic materials. The best available evidence must be used in setting standards that protect health "for the period of the public employee's working life." Exposures to potentially toxic and harmful materials must be monitored. Public employees must be warned of all the hazards to which they are exposed and instructed on precautions and protective equipment to use. The public employer will pay for medical examinations resulting from exposure to hazardous materials and other tests as established by Ohio's risk reduction standards.
INSPECTIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS
- The Division of Occupational Safety and Health can inspect, make inquiries, and examine records in any public employment site. The inspections shall take place only when a public employee, public employee representative, or public employer states in writing that a violation of a risk reduction standard is believed to exist. Names of those sending the written notice will remain confidential. The alleged violation is then made known to the public employer who, within 30 days following notification of the violation, has an opportunity to correct the violation or respond to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health before an inspection takes place.
- If an inspection does take place, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health has the right to look at any area where violations of risk reduction standards are believed to exist. If serious violations are found during an inspection, the public employer can be ordered to discontinue an operation. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health can ask any court of common pleas to order an immediate restraining order for conditions and practices that present an imminent hazard. When the Division of Occupational Safety and Health cites an employer for violating a risk reduction standard, it shall cause the employer to post the violation, and shall set a time for correction of the violation.
- Citations can be appealed. After all administrative appeals are exhausted, a public employer can ask a court of common pleas to find for the existence of an undue hardship and grant a suspension of an order. If public employers, public employees, or public employee representatives willfully fail to comply with a final order of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, a court of common pleas will be asked to enforce compliance. The court shall impose a penalty of not more than five hundred dollars a day per violation, not to exceed a total of ten thousand dollars.
RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF EMPLOYEES
- Public employees can refuse to work under conditions that they believe to "present an imminent danger of death or serious harm," and when these conditions "are not such as normally exist for or reasonably might be expected to occur in the occupation of the public employee." Public employees can refuse to work under these conditions when: they request the employer to correct the conditions but the conditions are not corrected; there is insufficient time to use normal enforcement methods (described above); "the danger was one that a reasonable person under the circumstances then confronting the public employee would conclude is an imminent danger of death or serious physical harm to the public employee;" and an employee or employer sends a written, signed notification to the Chief of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health about the reason for refusing to work. Occupational Safety and Health can then conduct an inspection.
- A public employee who follows these steps shall have a right to continued employment and payment for tasks that would have been performed. Public employees who believe that they have been discriminated against in any manner by filing complaints or proceedings under this law can seek administrative remedies. Public employees who do not follow the steps summarized above when refusing to work are subject to disciplinary action, such as suspension or discharge.
GRANTING OF VARIANCES
- A public employer can ask for an exemption from a standard that would cause an undue hardship due to difficulty or expense in achieving a standard. The Division of Occupational Safety and Health can grant a temporary or permanent variance when a public employer follows specified steps in requesting the variance, when the variance will not create an imminent danger to public employees, and when the Division of Occupational Safety and Health is convinced that other methods proposed by the public employer provide the same protection as Ohio's risk reduction standard.
RECORDS AND PUBLIC INFORMATION
- Public employers will send to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health reports and records of deaths and lost-time occupational illnesses and injuries, as part of semiannual payroll reports submitted to the Bureau of Workers Compensation. Records of exposures to potentially harmful materials must be maintained and made available to employees and their representatives. Public employees and their representatives have the right to conduct their own monitoring of harmful materials. Public employees must be informed of employee rights and obligations under the new law through postings and other methods.
- Industrial Relations and the Bureau of Workers Compensation shall conduct training programs to assist public employers and employees in recognizing and preventing unsafe working conditions. The law does not preclude public employers from conducting their own training.
Environmental Health and Safety
March 18, 1993