The National Labor Relations Board (“the Board”) recently issued its decision in Caterpillar, Inc., 359 NLRB No. 97, in which a union charged that the employer had violated the National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”) by refusing to grant the union access to the employer’s facility to conduct a health and safety inspection in the wake of a fatal accident. The company objected to the union’s request on several grounds. First, the company noted that it had conducted an accident re-creation, which it allowed the union’s steward to attend, and had also provided a video recording of the re-creation to the union’s safety specialist. Further, the company provided copies of post-accident photographs and the local police department’s investigation file to the union. Finally, the company pointed out that the union also represented one of the company’s primary competitors, and stated that the company wanted to maintain the confidentiality of its manufacturing procedures.
The union asserted that photographs and video recordings could not take the place of an on-site inspection, because only being physically present at the location of the accident would give the safety specialist a full understanding of the lines of sight, angles, and physical dimensions of the work area. Further, the union noted that the police department had been unable to determine the precise cause of the accident during its investigation. The union argued that it needed access to the employer’s facility in order conduct an independent investigation, which would allow the union to then engage in informed dialogue with the company about methods for preventing future accidents.