The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) voted unanimously to extend and make permanent a pilot program requiring settlement talks in cases where employers face high penalties, Chairman Thomasina V. Rogers announced.
Chairman Rogers said the agency also plans a number of administrative and management actions on an on-going basis to ensure the continued success of the settlement part. Among these actions are reviewing criteria for selecting cases for these procedures, monitoring participant satisfaction with the process, and tracking the costs associated with it and the impact it has on the workload of Review Commission Administrative Law Judges (ALJs).
The settlement part provides a more structured and formal setting in the preliminary stages of cases to promote the resolution of disputes and to reduce litigation costs. It requires employers who receive job safety or health citations that include proposed penalties of $200,000 or more to participate in formal settlement talks at which a Review Commission ALJ presides. If settlement efforts fail, a different ALJ hears the case. To enhance the chances of success, settlement conferences must be attended by officials with the authority to settle. Information and documents shared during such negotiations are confidential and protected from later disclosure unless all parties agree. When employers contest workplace safety citations, they are not required to correct allegedly unsafe conditions until the Review Commission issues a final decision; thus settlement often brings swifter correction of potential workplace hazards.
At a Review Commission meeting that included a discussion of the settlement part, Chief Administrative Law Judge Irving Sommer, who administers the program, said the settlement part is "a win-win situation." Judge Sommer also remarked that "I think it has been cost effective for the Commission, for the representatives before the Commission, for the public." The action on the settlement part is found at 65 Federal Register 58350, September 29, 2000.
The Review Commission was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to issue decisions in disputes arising from citations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Those citations may also include proposed monetary penalties.