The U.S. Department of Labor went to court in early December to preserve an enforcement program that would allow it to target the most dangerous jobsites in America for inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Cooperative Compliance Pro-gram would let employers with the highest injury and illness rates choose between traditional enforcement or partnership with OSHA to reduce hazards and improve workplace safety and health.

“Safety and health partnerships pay off for everyone,” said Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. “They lower workers’ risk of injury and illness on the job. Employers save workers’ compensation costs and cut the likelihood of OSHA penalties. And taxpayers get a better return on their dollars through effective leveraging of the government’s resources.”

In November 1997 OSHA invited 12,000 employers with injury and illness rates double the national average or higher to join the Cooperative Compliance Program. More than 10,000 — or 87 percent — accepted. The partnership program was hailed as a significant step in the agency’s effort to work cooperatively with business to improve safety and health in the workplace.

But in February 1998 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to block implementation of the program. The court granted a stay of the program until it heard oral arguments and reached a decision. Oral arguments were presented Dec. 3.

Since February, OSHA has pursued an interim enforcement plan that allows targeting of high hazard worksites but does not offer partnerships to interested employers. It is not yet known when a decision will be handed down.

“Most employers would prefer partnership,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health,” Charles Jeffress. “We received letters of support from many who applauded the program and were disappointed when it was halted by the lawsuit. We continue to believe that innovative, creative approaches to compliance allow us to combine strong business support with vital worker protections.”

The Cooperative Compliance Pro-gram was modeled on the Maine 200 Program that won an Innovation in American Government Award from the Ford Foundation and a Hammer Award from Vice President Al Gore’s National Performance Review. Similar programs in eight other states showed great success in reducing injury and illness rates, lessening hazards in the workplace and lowering workers’ compensation costs for companies. The eight other states were Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Missis-sippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.