EHS Management, Enforcement and Inspection

CSB Investigations: The Importance of Worker Participation

Worker participation in industrial chemical accident investigations is a high priority at the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which recently issued a Board Order Addendum that establishes the CSB’s policy on such participation.

Incident Investigation

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“The success of the Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) investigative mission depends in part on the robust participation of diverse parties, including the involvement of employees of all types, and their workplace representatives,” states the CSB. “Workers are often critical sources of information relevant to the investigation, and individual employees often serve as witnesses.”

The Addendum makes it clear that the CSB has a broad view of which workers it will involve in investigations. The CSB defines workers “as employees of all types, including corporate, facility, contract, and temporary employees; however, it does not apply to supervisors or managers, whether at the corporate or facility level.”

Walk-Throughs, Interviews, Reports

A “reasonable number” of workers will be asked by the CSB’s investigators-in-charge (IIC) to participate in basically all parts of the on-site investigation as well as follow-up activities, including:

  • Investigation opening meetings, status update meetings, and closing meetings;
  • Site walk-throughs and on-scene investigation activities;
  • Equipment, material, and sample evidentiary testing;
  • Employee witness interviews;
  • Document requests; and
  • Review of draft written reports and recommendations.

Union Reps

Workers may participate individually in these activities, or participation may occur through a union representative. In nonunion facilities, a member of a worker health and safety committee can become involved in the investigation. If such committees do not exist, the IICs will work with the employees to ensure appropriate employee input into “all significant issues.”

Interviews

Workers may be asked to serve as witnesses in investigations. In addition, the Addendum emphasizes the CSB’s authority to conduct interviews with employees. The CSB states:
“Employees are often vital witnesses in CSB investigations. At the direction of the IIC, relevant employees may be interviewed in accordance with CSB regulations, investigative protocol and procedures. The CSB may interview employees and their representatives at any location outside of the workplace, as mutually agreed. CSB investigators will ensure that investigative activities involving speaking with employees, including all meetings, informal conversations, or interviews with employees and their representatives, are conducted in an atmosphere that is free from threats, intimidation, or coercion by any party. If disruptive or threatening behavior occurs during an interview, the CSB investigators will suspend the interview until the situation is appropriately resolved, which may include removing any disruptive individual(s).”

Interference

Finally, the Addendum makes it clear that the CSB and its IICs will brook no interference by management with employee participation in investigations. The Addendum states:
“If management representatives or other parties attempt to interfere with employee participation in the CSB’s investigation, the Executive Director [of Investigations and Recommendations], or his designee, shall remind the parties of the CSB’s statutory powers with respect to information gathering, and the agency’s statutory authority to provide employees and their representatives the opportunity to participate in agency investigations. The Executive Director, in consultation with the Office of General Counsel, will address, by all appropriate means, any continued interference with a CSB investigation. Any form of interference with CSB investigations may be reported to Federal law enforcement as obstruction of a Federal investigation.”