Sexual harassment on a construction site? Just imagine it.
Color us shocked. Utterly shocked.
Yet, that is among the allegations raised by a builders group who claim that Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors have engaged in a bizarre conduct that has included intimidation and comments to workers of both genders that could be construed as sexual harassment.
The complaints were so telling that U.S. Rep. Tom Marino intervened to call upon the head of OSHA to investigate the allegations. Just as importantly, the congressman has asked that OSHA explain what standards it expects its inspectors to follow and what policies are in place to address accusations of misconduct or excessive use of authority.
A healthy and safety consultant who advised the Central Susquehanna Builders Association said she believes the complaints could stem a change in personnel in the OSHA inspector ranks. In addition to the questionable conduct when dealing with the public, she alleges that some citations had been completed improperly.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Labor acknowledged that the agency had received Marino's letter and said staff were preparing a response. Staff at the OSHA office in Wilkes-Barre, the location at the heart of the allegations, have declined to speak publicly at all.
Most people in the business world understand and reasonably tolerate the sense that government inspectors are expected to enforce the law.
Rules intended to protect workers ought to be enforced. Those who are used to complying with the rules and being penalized when they violate them, recognize the difference between vigorous enforcement of the law and the behavior of what appear to be rogue inspectors.
This is a matter of management. The government officials who hire, train and supervise inspectors have a responsibility to ensure that staff follow the rules, document their conduct and engage the public in ways that protect against baseless accusations. If the builders group's allegations are even partially true, then OSHA has failed in all those aspects.
Marino has stepped forward to represent the interests of his constituents and he deserves credit for it. We hope that his intervention prompts OSHA to respond with a clear report of its review. The public will be curious to hear what went wrong and how it will be corrected, or OSHA explains how so many builders suddenly began to report inappropriate behavior.