The Chamber of Commerce yesterday challenged as unconstitutional a Labor Department ruling requiring employers to pay workers for time spent accompanying federal officials on job safety and health inspections.

The chamber said in a suit filed in U.S. District Court that the ruling, implemented last month by the departments Occupational Safety and Health Administration, will cost American employers millions of dollars.

"Business readily acknowledges the legality of walkarounds inspections that are conducted for good and valid reasons," said chamber president Richard Lesher in announcing the suit.

"But," he added, "the chamber and its members strenuously object to the OSHA decree that an employer has no alternative but to pay, despite the fact that such walkarounds can consume several weeks - sometimes more than a month - and involve many workers."

The ruling, which became effective Sept. 15, noted that employees are often the best sources of information concerning hazardous areas in a workplace. It said that information could be essential to an OSHA inspector in determining what enforcement action should be taken.

Lesher contended the decisions on whether a company should be required to pay employees accompanying an OSHA inspector should be decided in collective bargaining and not by the government.