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Safety and health program faces challenges

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A program that allows the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to tap industry expertise to help conduct safety inspections can be effective, but efforts to expand the list of volunteers will likely be limited since it’s their employers and not the agency footing the bills.

The Special Government Employee Program was established in 1994 to allow industry employees who have worked at Voluntary Protection Program-certified workplaces to work alongside OSHA during on-site evaluations of other program members or potential members. The program benefits OSHA by supplementing its on-site evaluation teams, but the participation of these volunteers is funded by their companies. Currently, there are about 1,500 licensed SGEs in the VPP, according to OSHA.

Michael Wood, administrator of the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services in Salem, said during a public meeting in Washington last month that he was initially skeptical of the SGE program but now supports it.

“It’s ... been my experience that SGEs sometimes are a lot tougher graders than some of my compliance officers,” he said.

Fred Rideout, risk management director for Oshkosh, Wisconsin-based CR Meyer, said it would be “tough” to try to increase SGE participation because they have fulltime jobs and often wear multiple hats.

Taking days or a week off to help with an audit at another company is a challenge, particularly because his company pays for his salary and hotel expenses, he said.