Labor Secretary Edith Deleon Guerrero said that her department is responsible for investigations relating to work-related injuries and other incidents, for submission of reports to the Office of the Attorney General and other federal agencies for immediate action.
Deleon Guerrero, in an email to Saipan Tribune, said she just wanted to provide more clarity on DOL’s responsibilities that an employer have in relation to workplace injuries and/or deaths. Employers must make sure the workplace is safe and healthy for employees.
“Employers have the responsibility to report such injuries directly to the [United States Department of Labor-Occupational Safety and Health Administration] Office,” said Deleon Guerrero.
She added that their investigations and filing of reports is separate from the work of OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Division, which is under her department. That division earlier said that it does not have the authority to enforce or issue citations on safety and health violations in the workplace.
“Additionally, when tips and/or information is received by the CNMI DoL, it is also our responsibility to ensure that the information received is transferred to the appropriate federal office that has jurisdiction on enforcement and citations,” said Deleon Guerrero.
“At the same time the CNMI DoL looks into the application of CNMI laws that grants the CNMI DoL authority to conduct an investigation and on matters like this. CNMI DoL [under Public Law] 15-108 has the authority to conduct an investigation and report in writing to the AG.”
The local Labor secretary issued the statement after a worker accidentally died last week at the construction site of the Imperial Pacific Resort in Garapan. The laborer reportedly fell 24 feet from a scaffold.
“The CNMI DoL has conducted investigations of similar nature and has officially…submitted its report in writing to the AG’s office. The CNMI DoL, however, does not discuss ongoing investigations.”
CNMI OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Division only provides technical assistance and conduct on-site consultations to employers, which is separate from the federal OSHA’s Region IX office that had the authority to enforce laws and issue citations or impose penalties.
CNMI OSHA, according to the local labor department’s website, is a U.S.-DoL cooperative program for small businesses that offers free and confidential on-site safety advice. They also give health advice to small and medium-sized businesses.
OSHA’s Region IX office, of which the CNMI falls under, is the one that’s authorized to conduct investigations and impose fines. The states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada, and the territories of American Samoa and Guam are also under Region IX.
OSHA, an umbrella agency under the U.S. Labor Department, requires employers under their jurisdiction to report all work-related deaths within eight hours, and all hospitalizations, amputations, and any losses of body parts within 24 hours of learning about the incident. The directive took effect on Jan. 1, 2015.
Action must be taken
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) said that immediate action should be done and, where necessary, steps must be followed to prevent another work-related injury in the future.
He met with OSHA officials, led by Enforcement Programs director Tom Gallassi, in Washington, D.C. last week to discuss the issue.
Sablan said work-related injuries in the CNMI have increased, based on a report released by the Commonwealth Healthcare Center, from 2015 to 2016. November 2016 had the highest number of injuries.
“Workplace injuries in the [CNMI] spiked last year, including a broken back, two amputations, and 80 serious injuries reported from construction sites in the Northern Marianas,” said Sablan.
“[And] with a worker falling to his death [last] week, clearly more needs to be done. I met this week with [Gallassi] and other [U.S. OSHA] officials to find out what [they are] doing to prevent these injuries and take action against employers who fail to follow safety rules.”
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) also wrote CNMI House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) to ask him to form an oversight in order to get answers.