Turmoil in Cal/OSHA

by walterlaw Cal/OSHA Issues OSHA Enforcement Policies OSHA News

This week’s lead article in the Cal-OSHA Reporter was eye popping.

Whenever a worker dies on the job, or whenever an Enforcement inspector thinks an accident has been caused by criminal misconduct, Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations (called BOI) is required to look for evidence of violations by the employer or supervisors of criminal statutes found in the Labor Code, not in the Penal Code. This mandate does not arise from just Cal/OSHA’s regulations. BOI’s charter was enshrined by the Legislature in California Labor Code section 6315(a).

For years BOI was staffed by seasoned professionals: Four in Northern California, where they tended to be retired San Francisco PD homicide inspectors; and five in Southern California which drew heavily from the ranks of retired LA County Sheriff’s deputies. But things have deteriorated, to put it mildly.

Today’s edition of the Cal/OSHA Reporter reports that there remains a total of only four inspectors. And our own digging has revealed that there are now in fact only three, with none in NorCal.

The reasons for the collapse of BOI are many and obscure; few of the people who know are talking on the record. But consider this: The standard case load for a BOI inspector is about 20 cases. One of the last inspectors says the current average load is 80. Why? Because Cal/OSHA cannot recruit good talent.

And why is that? Consider this: A BOI inspector recently left the NorCal office to take a junior CSHO position in Fremont. If he had made BOI his career his salary would have topped out in a few years at $81,264.00.  Now he can look forward to top pay of $124,000 in 2018 dollars.

Inequities such as these are clear examples of Cal/OSHA’s failure to manage itself and plan for its future.

The ultimate ramifications of all this are “untellin’” as my Southern relatives say. But here are a few guesses.

The most obvious is that Cal/OSHA cannot meet it obligation to seek justice from truly bad employers.

Another is a three-step path to delay: When a worker dies on the job, BOI is mandated to open an investigation. If the employer has filed an appeal from Enforcement’s citations, the Appeals Board is mandated, in turn, to stay the progress of the appeal until the BOI case is closed or for two years, whichever comes first.

Another is that local DA’s may attempt to enforce the Labor Code’s criminal sanctions on their own. But their failure at that in the past led to the creation of BOI in the first place.

And they say the storm is on the Right Coast.