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OSHA renews its alliance to prevent falls at worksites

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has renewed its alliance with a nonprofit public service organization to enhance workplace safety, giving particular emphasis to the prevention of falls at construction sites.

“Falls cause more fatalities than any other hazard in the construction industry,” David Michaels said in announcing OHSA’s renewal of its Alliance Program with the National Safety Council. Michaels is assistant secretary of labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

“We look forward to collaborating with the NSC to educate and train employers and workers on preventing job hazards,” Michaels said in an agency press release.

OSHA’s new two-year agreement with the National Safety Council calls for the joint development of fact sheets on the benefits of employers establishing injury and illness prevention programs that identify workplace hazards. The renewed Alliance Program will also develop so-called “control topics” addressing worker training, fall prevention and best practices for reporting near misses, the agency explained in its press release.

The agency said that the Alliance Program also provides for the development of a case study on preventing falls from heights in construction, “focusing on the causes of fall protection failures and how employers can assure an effective and reliable fall prevention program.”

The National Safety Council represents 14,000 employers and more than 6 million workers employed by its members.

According to OSHA, Alliance Program participants do not receive exemptions from OSHA inspections or any other enforcement benefits.

— Pat Murphy


Transgendered employees can’t be denied insurance

Employers and insurers may no longer deny health plans to transgendered individuals, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights.

The Affordable Care Act prohibits such discrimination, the agency said in a recent letter.

The letter, sent to Maya Rupert, the national policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was in response to a request clarifying whether sex-based discrimination was covered under Section 1557 of the act.

“We agree that Section 1557’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity,” the letter states.

The agency said it is currently accepting — and investigating — complaints filed under Section 1557.

In addition, the OCR is continuing outreach and education efforts with individuals, community organizations and providers regarding their rights and responsibilities under Section 1557, the letter says.

The letter follows an April ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, when the agency held that transgendered workers can bring employment bias claims under Title VII.

Some courts, including the 3rd Circuit, have reached similar conclusions.

— Correy E. Stephenson


Gov’t employers cut time for processing bias complaints

Federal employers have reduced the time they take to process job discrimination complaints, according to a new study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Between 2010 and 2011, federal agencies cut 14 days from the average amount of time it takes to process equal employment opportunity — or EEO — complaints, concludes the Annual Report on the Federal Work Force Part I:  EEO Complaints Processing for Fiscal Year 2011.

“This report has some encouraging news, particularly looking at how federal agencies have reduced the time for processing EEO complaints,” said Carlton M. Hadden, director of the EEOC’s Office of Federal Operations, in a statement.

Federal law requires federal sector employers to investigate job discrimination complaints themselves and, in most cases, issue final determinations on the merits.

The study found that it took an average of 346.38 days for federal agencies to process complaints in fiscal year 2011, down from an average of 360.28 days in 2010.

Federal employers also reduced the average number of days to process complaints on the merits by 51 days (429.89 days for 2011 and 480.99 for 2010).

In addition, the study found that federal agencies increased the number of timely issued decisions on the merits by 5 percent.

Overall, federal employees and applicants filed 16,974 complaints of employment discrimination in fiscal year 2011, the study found. Retaliation (7,553 complaints) was the most frequent claim against federal employers in 2011, followed by age discrimination (5,105 complaints).

“While federal agencies must remain focused on ensuring timely processing of EEO complaints, they also must make real their obligation to make their workplaces genuine models of EEO employment,” Hadden said in his statement.

In a related study released earlier this year, the EEOC found that minorities are making progress in securing senior level positions in federal agencies.

— Pat Murphy

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