Resurrecting an idea that died in Congress, the Labor Department is proposing to deputize labor-management committees or other private groups to enforce Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. Labor's proposal would set up several categories--including such felicitous acronyms as STAR, PRIME and PRAISE--for "good actor" employers, said Mark Cowan, deputy OSHA administrator. Regular OSHA inspections would be reduced or eliminated as the labor-management committee or management itself took more responsibility for workers' health and safety, with OSHA's formal blessing. But, Cowan cautioned, OSHA would not relinquish its ultimate responsibility for workplace safety.

Few of the 3.5 million workplaces regulated by the agency would get into these good-actor programs, Cowan said; OSHA would work industry-by-industry to pick the safest firms. Employers with labor-management safety committees would vie to get into the STAR (Sharing The Accountability for Regulation) program. The PRIME (Positive Results through Intensive Management Efforts) program would be for nonunion employers unnerved by anything suggesting worker organization. That's not to be confused with the PRAISE (Positive Results Achieved In Safe Employment) program for smaller businesses and non-hazardous industries. Operation Try, for no-so-good actors, would involve more OSHA oversight. The agency wants comments by March 15; it plans a one-year pilot program.

Most labor unions, which helped defeat the proposal in Congress two years ago, are predictably annoyed at its reappearance. "The labor-management committee can only advise," said George Taylor, an AFL-CIO safety expert. "They don't supersede management prerogatives."