Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation Program Benefits Businesses, Workers, Students

Posted on 11/1/21 11:41 AM

For almost 40 years, a program administered by Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Safety Sciences has been helping to protect the lives and health of millions of Pennsylvania workers, saving Pennsylvania small businesses millions of dollars each year—while also benefiting its host university.

The IUP Department of Safety Sciences administers the Pennsylvania Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Consultation program. It is staffed by 11 IUP Safety Sciences faculty members, all 100 percent board certified in occupational safety or industrial hygiene.

By federal law, each state must have an OSHA Consultation Program to help businesses comply with OSHA’s standards. The OSHA Consultation Program is not about enforcement, but about helping businesses and their workers, John Mulroy, director of the Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation program, said. He noted that employers who worked with Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation often remark the project “is Pennsylvania’s best kept secret.”

“Employers we work with often comment that the Consultation Project is ‘Pennsylvania’s best kept secret,’” Mulroy said. “We’re not trying to keep our free OSHA compliance assistance a secret. In fact, we work every day to spread the word that no-cost help with the OSHA standards is just a phone call or a visit to IUP.edu away. Based on the volume of calls we are getting, we think businesses are getting the message,” he said.

According to statistics from OSHA at the federal level, nearly one million Pennsylvania workers have been removed from unsafe work hazards in the last six years as a result of work by the Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation Program. By avoiding injuries and illnesses as a result of corrected hazards, Pennsylvania private businesses saved more than $39 million in both direct and indirect costs in just one year.

Funding for the program and salaries for the faculty members are entirely supported by the federal grant and matching state funds, and businesses are never charged for compliance assistance consultation services. Businesses must voluntarily request consultation services. They are not required by federal OSHA standards to participate in consultation services, and unlike enforcement, employers maintain control over the scope of the consultation visit throughout the hazard assessment, Mulroy said.

“One of the bigger benefits to employers is consultation faculty are not enforcement officers; therefore, they do not issue citations or penalties, and consultation findings are kept 100 percent confidential,” Mulroy said. “This means federal law prohibits the findings of all onsite visits from being shared with anyone outside the program, including OSHA enforcement.”

The only situation in which OSHA enforcement is advised of consultation findings—and this is extremely rare—is if an employer refuses to correct an identified serious hazard. In a situation like that, enforcement must be notified to ensure the protection of the workers facing that identified serious hazard. In Pennsylvania, this is so rare that referral to enforcement for a business owner refusing to correct a serious hazard has happened only twice during the last 10,000 visits, Mulroy said.

“Protecting workers makes business sense, helps create a strong culture, and provides workers a voice so they feel heard,” Gregory Tate, OSHA Safety and Occupational Health specialist from Region III, said.

“Pennsylvania’s small businesses have one of the best resources available to them at no cost. All of the consultants within the Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation program at IUP are certified safety and health professionals at the highest standards and are at the top tier of their profession,” he said. “Their specialized services, which normally could cost employers thousands of dollars per visit, are free to small businesses and help address problems before employees are hurt or even killed. Their efforts have and will continue to save lives and keep businesses operating. All state consultants can help businesses implement safety and health programs, which can lead to OSHA recognition and exemptions from OSHA’s programmed inspections,” Tate said.

“The Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation Program exemplifies the best attributes of a consultation program and supports the most employer sites in Region III within OSHA’s Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program,” Tate said. “I would encourage all small business owners, including those in Pennsylvania, to get started in moving their business to the next level and request a visit from their state consultation program today.” 

IUP’s program annually averages visits to nearly 600 small businesses of all types and sizes, including manufacturing, commercial and residential construction, oil and gas extraction, telecommunications, lumber mills, doctor and dentist offices, laboratories, and shipbuilding on Lake Erie. Since 1983, Pennsylvania OSHA consultants have conducted more than 32,000 visits to small- and mid-sized high-hazard Pennsylvania companies.

Pennsylvania is ranked sixth in the nation for the number of small businesses by the United States Small Business Administration, with 1.1 million small businesses, accounting for 99.6 percent of all Pennsylvania businesses. Small businesses in Pennsylvania employ approximately 2.5 million workers, or 46.2 percent of all workers in the state.

While the program works to keep employees safe and help Pennsylvania businesses, it also has great benefits to IUP.

“The Department of Safety Sciences continues to be honored to be the sole agency and home for the state’s OSHA Consultation Program,” Department of Safety Sciences Chairperson Tracey Cekada said. “It’s an incredible responsibility and privilege to be part of the process of helping to keep workers safe and assisting Pennsylvania’s small businesses. We also appreciate all of the benefits and value it brings to our university, to our department, and to our students.”

Since the 2007–08 fiscal year, IUP has received more than $25.6 million for the project (ranging from $1.5 million in 2008–09 to $1.95 million in 2019–20 and 2020–21). The Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation Project has been the largest recurring grant program at IUP since the 2007–08 fiscal year.

“IUP’s Safety Sciences Department is nationally known for educating safety professionals who excel in industries such as chemicals, construction, steel, consulting, insurance, and manufacturing,” Mulroy said. “Hosting a consultation program through the Department of Safety Sciences—and being at a university—is a great fit,” he said. Pennsylvania’s OSHA Consultation Program is one of only 12 university-based programs in the nation.

“The on-site experiences in the diverse worksites that we serve keep the faculty in the program current in the field, and consultant faculty who instruct in safety sciences bring this knowledge and experiences to students in the classroom,” Mulroy said.

“Our consultation program faculty also develop strong relationships with businesses throughout the commonwealth, resulting in opportunities for our students for internships and jobs. The businesses we serve tell us repeatedly that they appreciate our training and expertise, and because so many of our faculty are graduates of the Department of Safety Sciences, these businesses want our majors on their teams,” he said. “It’s definitely a win for everyone involved, especially our students.”

The Department of Safety Sciences at IUP was formed in 1971 through a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and was the first occupational safety program in the nation. IUP is one of the few universities in the nation to offer degrees in the major at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels. The programs annually graduate about 75 students.

Most recently, Mulroy and Cekada worked together to develop an informal job shadowing program for undergraduate safety sciences majors, offering the opportunity to shadow OSHA Consultation program faculty while they are conducting on-site evaluations.

“This shadowing program provides our students context around what they are learning in the classroom and an opportunity to see a highly trained safety professional in the field,” Mulroy said.

“Because of the diversity of businesses that use our services, our students are exposed to a variety of career opportunities, which can help them to make decisions about their future. It’s also a chance for our students to network with these business owners and employees on their home turf, which can be a tremendous advantage as students pursue internships and jobs with those companies,” Mulroy said.

“Students in our major have so many industries to choose from for their careers—manufacturing, insurance, health care, oil and gas, construction, distribution, and so many more—so if they can tag along with a consultation program faculty member, they can get a taste of both the job and the industry to help them decide if it’s the career they want to pursue.”

Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation Program faculty are located throughout the state, so in addition to job shadowing opportunities in the IUP area, students can take advantage of the program from their homes during breaks.

At the graduate level, for the past three years, students in the master’s program in safety sciences in classes with Wanda Minnick have been invited to present current research to businesses who receive the consulting services.

“It gives our students practice in presenting their own research and allows the business owners to see the professionalism and level of preparation of our master’s students, and it’s a great networking opportunity for these students. It’s a definite advantage for students to already have experience in presenting to businesses as they go through the interview process,” Cekada said. “The OSHA Consultation Program and these student-based initiatives are a win for everyone.”

“The department’s outstanding reputation continues to contribute to the consultation program’s reputation, and the reputation that the consultation program has built since it began in 1983 reflects positively on IUP and on the department,” Cekada said. “IUP’s leadership in the field of safety sciences definitely shines through. Business owners see the preparation that IUP Safety Sciences provides to its graduates.”

“We are very proud of the reputation that we have built,” Mulroy said. “Businesses tell us how much they value our services, and we get requests for repeat visits from our business clients. About 30 percent of our requests for consultation are from businesses that we’ve previously visited and assisted, and our statistics show these repeat clients’ workplaces get safer with each visit. Assessment surveys also show that businesses are extremely satisfied with the services provided by the consultants.”

“This program is one way of giving back to our workers,” said Lynne Greene, safety director, Edwards Wood Products. “Our safety and health management system is at the forefront of EWP’s business. It has saved us money, resulting in the hiring of new people as EWP expands its business operations.”

For more information about the Pennsylvania OSHA Consultation Project, call 800-382-1241 or visit the PA OSHA Consultation Program website.