16VAC25-60-90. Release of information and disclosure pursuant to requests under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and subpoenas.
A. Pursuant to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and with the exceptions stated in subsections B through H of this section, employers, employees and their representatives shall have access to information gathered in the course of an inspection.
B. Interview statements of employers, owners, operators,
agents, or employees given to the commissioner in confidence pursuant to §
40.1-49.8 of the Code of Virginia shall not be disclosed [
for any purpose,
except to the individual giving the statement ] .
C. All file documents contained in case files which are under investigation, and where a citation has not been issued, are not disclosable until:
1. The decision has been made not to issue citations; or
2. Six months has lapsed following the occurrence of an alleged violation.
D. Issued citations, orders of abatement and proposed penalties are public documents and are releasable upon a written request. All other file documents in cases where a citation has been issued are not disclosable until the case is a final order of the commissioner or the court, except that once a copy of file documents in a contested case has been provided to legal counsel for the employer in response to a request for discovery, or to a third party in response to a subpoena duces tecum, such documents shall be releasable upon a written request, subject to the exclusions in this regulation and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
E. Information required to be kept confidential by law shall not be disclosed by the commissioner or by any employee of the department. In particular, the following specific information is deemed to be nondisclosable:
1. The identity of and statements of an employee or employee representative who has complained of hazardous conditions to the commissioner;
2. The identities of employers, owners, operators, agents or employees interviewed during inspections and their interview statements;
3. Employee medical and personnel records obtained during VOSH inspections. Such records may be released to the employee or his duly authorized representative upon a written, and endorsed request; and
4. Employer trade secrets, commercial, and financial data.
F. The commissioner may decline to disclose a document that is excluded from the disclosure requirements of the Virginia FOIA, particularly documents and evidence related to criminal investigations, writings protected by the attorney-client privilege, documents compiled for use in litigation and personnel records.
G. An effective program of investigation and conciliation of complaints of discrimination requires confidentiality. Accordingly, disclosure of records of such complaints, investigations, and conciliations will be presumed to not serve the purposes of Title 40.1 of the Code of Virginia, except for statistical and other general information that does not reveal the identities of particular employers or employees.
H. All information gathered through participation in consultation services or training programs of the department shall be withheld from disclosure except for statistical data which does not identify individual employers.
I. The commissioner, in response to a subpoena, order, or other demand of a court or other authority in connection with a proceeding to which the department is not a party, shall not disclose any information or produce any material acquired as part of the performance of his official duties or because of his official status without the approval of the Commissioner of Labor and Industry.
J. The commissioner shall disclose information and statistics gathered pursuant to the enforcement of Virginia's occupational safety and health laws, standards, and regulations where it has been determined that such a disclosure will serve to promote the safety, health, and welfare of employees. Any person requesting disclosure of such information and statistics should include in his written request any information that will aid the commissioner in this determination.
Walkthrough by the commissioner for the inspection of any workplace includes the following privileges.
1. The commissioner shall be in charge of the inspection and,
as part of an inspection, may question privately any employer, owner, operator,
agent, or employee. The commissioner shall conduct the interviews of persons
during the inspection or at other convenient times. The commissioner may
take and preserve testimony, examine witnesses and administer oaths as provided
for in [
16VAC25-60-245 §245 of these regulations ] .
2. As part of an inspection, the commissioner may take or obtain photographs, video recordings, audio recordings and samples of materials, and employ other reasonable investigative techniques as deemed appropriate. As used here, the term "employ other reasonable investigative techniques" includes, but is not limited to, the use of devices to measure employee exposures and the attachment of personal sampling equipment such as dosimeters, pumps, badges and other devices to employees in order to monitor their exposures.
3. Any employee representative selected to accompany the commissioner during the inspection of the workplace shall be an employee of the employer. Additional employer representatives and employee representatives may be permitted by the commissioner to accompany the inspection team where the commissioner determines such additional persons will aid in the inspection. A different employer representative or employee representative may accompany the commissioner during each phase of the inspection if, in the determination of the commissioner, this will aid in the conduct of the inspection.
4. The commissioner may limit the number of representatives when the inspection group would be of such size as to interfere with the inspection or create possible safety hazards, or when the representative does not represent an employer or employee present in the particular area under inspection.
5. In such cases as stated in subdivision 4 of this section, the commissioner must give each walkthrough representative the opportunity to advise of possible safety or health hazards and then proceed with the inspection without walkthrough representatives. Whenever the commissioner has limited the number of employee walkthrough representatives, a reasonable number of employees shall be consulted during the inspection concerning possible safety or health hazards.
6. Technical personnel such as safety engineers and industrial hygienists or other consultants to the commissioner or the employer may accompany the commissioner if the commissioner determines that their presence would aid in the conduct of the inspection and agreement is obtained from the employer or the commissioner obtains an order under § 40.1-6(8)(b) of the Code of Virginia. All such consultants shall be bound by the confidentiality requirements of § 40.1-51.4:1 of the Code of Virginia.
7. The commissioner is authorized to dismiss from the inspection party at any time any person or persons whose conduct interferes with the inspection.
16VAC25-60-245. Take and preserve testimony, examine witnesses and administer oaths.
A. Subdivision 4 of § 40.1-6 of the Code of Virginia authorizes the commissioner, in the discharge of his duties, to take and preserve testimony, examine witnesses and administer oaths. In accordance with subdivision 5 of § 40.1-6 of the Code of Virginia, the Commissioner of Labor and Industry may appoint such representatives as are necessary to carry out the functions outlined in subdivision 4 of § 40.1-6 of the Code of Virginia. Such appointments shall be made in writing; identify the individual being appointed, the length of appointment, the method of withdrawal of such appointment; and specify what duties are being prescribed.
B. The oath shall be administered by the commissioner's appointed representative to the witness as follows: "Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth."
C. Testimony given under oath shall be recorded by a court reporter.
D. Questioning of employers, owners, operators, agents or employees under oath shall be in private in accordance with subdivision 2 of § 40.1-49.8 of the Code of Virginia.
E. An employer's refusal to make an owner, operator, agent or employee available to the commissioner for examination under this section shall be considered a refusal to consent to the commissioner's inspection authority under § 40.1-49.8 of the Code of Virginia. Upon such refusal the commissioner may seek an administrative search warrant in accordance with the provisions contained in §§ 40.1-49.9 through 40.1-49.12 of the Code of Virginia, and obtain an order from the appropriate judge commanding the employer to make the subject owner, operator, agent or employee available for examination at a specified location by a date and time certain.
F. In accordance with § 40.1-10 of the Code of Virginia, if any person who may be sworn to give testimony shall willfully fail or refuse to answer any legal and proper question propounded to him concerning the subject of the examination under § 40.1-6 of the Code of Virginia, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Such person, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not exceeding $100 nor less than $25 or imprisoned in jail not exceeding 90 days or both. Any such refusal on the part of any person to comply with this section may be referred by the Commissioner of Labor and Industry to the appropriate attorney for the Commonwealth for prosecution.