OSHA updates Whistleblower Investigations Manual

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released a new edition of its Whistleblower Investigations Manual, one of a series of measures to improve OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program announced in August.

The manual contains updates to case handling procedures, information about the new laws enacted since the manual was last updated in 2003 and other information to guide OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program. The new manual will provide further statutes delegated to help ensure consistency and quality of investigations.

Key changes to the manual include a requirement that investigators make every attempt to interview the complainant in all cases; clarification that whistleblower complaints under any statute may be filed orally or in writing and in any language and that OSHA will be accepting electronically filed complaints on its Whistleblower Protection Program website, www.whistleblowers.gov; additional clarifications of the investigative process, including method and recording of interviews and processing of dually filed 11(c) complaints in state plan states; and expanded guidance for dealing with uncooperative respondents and issuing administrative subpoenas during whistleblower investigations.

The updated manual is available at www.osha.gov. More information about the program and the 21 statutes enforced by OSHA is available at www.whistleblowers.gov.

In addition, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have developed new guidance, Nail Gun Safety—A Guide for Construction Contractors, to help construction employers and workers prevent work-related nail gun injuries. The document is available at www.osha.gov.

IRS announces employee reclassification program

In September, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced its new Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, which allows an employer to reclassify independent contractors as employees if those workers previously were misclassified.

The Voluntary Classification Settlement Program does not make changes to the definition of an independent contractor but adds a new enforcement mechanism to the IRS oversight of businesses and their employment practices.

To participate in the program, an employer must apply for eligibility by filling out IRS Form 8952 at least 60 days before the worker is to be deemed an employee. If the IRS accepts the employer's request, that employer will be required to pay about 1 percent of the wages paid to reclassified workers for the past year. According to the IRS, there will be no interest charges or penalties and, if reported, the IRS will not audit an employer on payroll taxes related to reclassified workers for previous years.

Form 8952 and more information about the program are available at www.irs.gov.

OSHA issues citations against Bostik

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Bostik Inc., Middleton, Mass., for 50 alleged violations of workplace safety standards following a March 13 explosion at the company's Middleton plant. Four workers were injured in the explosion. Bostik faces a total of $917,000 in proposed fines.

OSHA's inspection found the process safety information for the salvation process was incomplete. Process safety information is a detailed set of requirements and procedures employers must follow to proactively address hazards associated with processes and equipment that involve large amounts of hazardous chemicals. The chemical in this instance was acetone used in a process safety management-covered process known as direct salvation. On the day of the explosion, a valve on a transfer line inadvertently was left open, resulting in the release of flammable acetone vapors. The vapors exploded after being ignited by an undetermined source.

According to OSHA, Bostik's analysis of hazards related to the process did not address previous incidents with a potential for catastrophic results, such as forklifts that struck process equipment, and did not address human factors such as operator error, communication between shift changes and employee fatigue from excessive overtime. In addition, Bostik did not ensure a forklift and electrical equipment, such as a light fixture, switches and a motor, were approved for use in Class 1 hazardous locations where flammable gases or vapors are present.

OSHA issued Bostik nine citations with $630,000 in proposed fines for the conditions. Bostik also has been issued 41 serious citations with $287,000 in fines for other conditions, including an incomplete and deficient emergency response plan, inadequate training for employees required to fight fires, obstructed exit access and electrical hazards, and additional process safety management deficiencies.

The Bostik citations are available at www.osha.gov.

IRS and HHS offer outreach to small businesses

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have announced a new round of outreach to small employers and the professional service providers they rely on to encourage them to review the new Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to determine whether they are eligible.

The Small Business Health Care Tax Credit was included in the Affordable Care Act enacted last year. Small employers who pay at least half the premiums for employee health insurance coverage under a qualifying arrangement may be eligible for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, which specifically is targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ 25 or fewer workers with an average income of $50,000 or less.

Tax-exempt organizations that file on a calendar year basis and requested an extension to file until Nov. 15 can use Form 8941 and claim the credit on Form 99-T, Line 44f.

The IRS' new outreach campaign will focus on working with its partners, including the tax software industry, to improve access to educational information and alert small employers and practitioners when taxpayers may be eligible for credit; insurance agents, brokers and carriers who work with small businesses to help ensure participants in the health insurance marketplace understand the credit's features and benefits; and the small-business tax practitioner community to provide additional webinars and educational opportunities about the credit.

HHS has posted additional information about the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit at www.healthcare.gov/news/blog/smallbusiness09072011.html. Additional information about eligibility requirements and calculating the credit can be found on the IRS' Small Business Health Care Tax Credit for Small Employers page at www.irs.gov.

Senator visits roofing company

During a visit to Kalkreuth Roofing and Sheet Metal, Frederick, Md., Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act (S. 1575), a bill that will help the construction industry create up to 40,000 new jobs nationwide and increase energy efficiency.

The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), will accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient roof systems and allow commercial roof systems that meet certain energy-efficiency standards and that are placed into service during the next two years to be depreciated over 20 years.

NRCA supports the Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act and H.R. 2962, the Roofing Efficiency Jobs Act of 2011 introduced by Reps. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). By accelerating demand for energy-efficient commercial roof systems, both bills would add $1 billion of taxable annual revenue in the construction sector; reduce U.S. energy consumption by 11.4 trillion British thermal units; save small businesses and consumers millions of dollars in energy costs; and reduce carbon emissions by 800,000 metric tons, which is equal to emissions of 153,000 cars.

For more information, contact Duane Musser, NRCA's vice president of government relations, at (202) 546-7584 or dmusser@nrca.net or Brandon Audap, NRCA's director of federal affairs, at (202) 400-2590 or baudap@nrca.net.

DOL postpones changes to wage program

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced its final rule governing the calculation of wage rates under the H-2B temporary employment program has been postponed to Nov. 30; it had been scheduled to take effect Sept. 30. The delay will permit the various courts involved in ongoing litigations surrounding the rule's implementation to determine the appropriate venue for all claims to be resolved and allow the department to avoid administering the H-2B program under potentially conflicting court orders.

NRCA and the H-2B Workforce Coalition filed comments on several occasions strongly opposing the wage calculation regulation, which is expected to dramatically increase costs for roofing contractors and other employers who use the program when domestic workers are unavailable.

Several employer groups have filed lawsuits against DOL aimed at blocking implementation of the final regulation, and NRCA is supporting one of these lawsuits.

NRCA will continue working with the H-2B Workforce Coalition in ongoing efforts to make the H-2B program workable for roofing contractors.


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