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Classification & Qualifications Appeal Decisions

Washington, DC

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Classification Appeal Decision
Under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code

[appellant's name]
Safety & Occupational Health Manager
GS-018-11
Division of Field Services
Bureau of Land Management
Department of the Interior
[Installation and work location]
Safety & Occupational Health Manager
GS-018-11
C-0018-11-05

Robert D. Hendler
Classification and Pay Claims Program Manager
Agency Compliance and Evaluation
Merit System Accountability and Compliance

10/20/2014


Date

As provided in section 511.612 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations, this decision constitutes a certificate that is mandatory and binding on all administrative, certifying, payroll, disbursing, and accounting officials of the Government.  The agency is responsible for reviewing its classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with this decision.  There is no right of further appeal.  This decision is subject to discretionary review only under conditions and time limits specified in the Introduction to the Position Classification Standards (Introduction), appendix 4, section G (address provided in appendix 4, section H).

As indicated in this decision, our findings show the appellant’s official position description (PD) does not meet the standard of adequacy described in section III.E. of the Introduction.  Since PDs must meet the standard of adequacy, the agency must revise the appellant’s PD to reflect our findings.  The servicing human resources office must submit a compliance report containing the corrected PD and a Standard Form 50 showing the personnel action taken.  The report must be submitted within 30 days from the effective date of the personnel action to the OPM office that accepted the appeal.

Decision sent to:

[Name of appellant]

[Name, mailing and email address of representative]

[Name of human resources officer]

[Address of appellant’s human resources office]

[Email of human resources officer]

 

Director, Office of Human Resources

Department of the Interior

Mail Stop 5230 MIB

1849 C Street NW

Washington, DC  20240

Introduction

On March 31, 2014, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Agency Compliance and Evaluation (ACE)-San Francisco office accepted a classification appeal from [name of appellant] filed on his behalf by his designated representative.  We received the agency’s complete administrative report on April 22, 2014.  The appellant’s position is currently classified as Safety and Occupational Health Manager, GS-018-11, but he believes his duties and responsibilities should be graded at the GS-12 level.  The appellant works in the Division of Field Services, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), [installation and work location], Department of the Interior.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112(b) of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.). 

General issues

The appellant makes various statements about the classification review process conducted by his agency, and compares his position to similar but higher-graded safety and occupational health positions at other districts within BLM and in other Federal agencies.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of his position.  By law, we must make that decision solely by comparing his current duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Since comparison to standards is the exclusive method for classifying positions, we cannot compare the appellant’s position to others, which may or may not be classified correctly, as a basis for deciding his appeal.  Because our decision sets aside any previous agency decisions, the classification practices used by the appellant’s agency in classifying his position are not germane to the classification appeal process. 

Like OPM, the appellant’s agency must classify positions based on comparison to OPM standards and guidelines.  The agency also has primary responsibility for ensuring that its positions are classified consistently with OPM appeal decisions.  If the appellant considers his position so similar to others that they all warrant the same classification, he may pursue the matter by writing to his agency headquarters human resources office.  In doing so, he should specify the precise organizational location, classification, duties, and responsibilities of the positions in question.  If the positions are found to be basically the same as his, the agency must correct their classification to be consistent with this appeal decision.  Otherwise, the agency should explain to him the differences between his position and the others. 

Position information

Both the appellant and his former supervisor agree the appellant’s position description (PD) number [number] is accurate.  However, we find it is inaccurate in its discussion of Factor 3, Guidelines, Factor 4, Complexity, and Factor 7, Purpose of Contacts.  As opposed to the discussion in the PD for Factor 3, we find the appellant is not confronted with situations where there are no applicable standards, or precedent control measures do not exist.  While he adapts guidelines, as necessary, to deal with specific safety hazard situations, he does not develop new methods to minimize risks of serious injury to persons or property.  Concerning Factor 4, he typically does not develop new measures or standards for controlling or eliminating hazards because extensive source material is already available from a variety of safety publications and subject-matter experts.  Regarding Factor 7, we find the appellant’s contacts are regularly made to influence, motivate and encourage sometimes unwilling and uncooperative individuals (e.g., public visitors using recreational areas) who do not comply with safety standards, or District managers who are skeptical and unwilling to comply with safety and occupational health requirements due to budgetary constraints or higher priorities for their respective resource management areas.  Consequently, at times the appellant enters into formal written agreements with particular Salem District managers to ensure identified abatement requirements are implemented.  This description supports assignment of Level 7-3.  Therefore, because the appellant’s PD of record does not meet the standard of adequacy addressed on pages 10-11 of the Introduction, the agency must revise the PD to reflect our findings for Factors 3, 4. and 7. 

The appellant plans, develops, manages, and evaluates the [name] District’s safety and occupational health management program.  He ensures compliance with a variety of complex safety and occupational health regulations and agency policies including those issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Fire Protection Association, the National Electric and Life Safety Codes, [name] State and local towns and counties, and BLM and the Department of the Interior.  These cover a variety of diverse BLM field operations including aviation and vehicle safety, wild land firefighting, search and rescue, motorboat operation, emergency action and procedures, field communications, motorized equipment, road maintenance safety and heavy engineering equipment operation, industrial hygiene, public safety, heavy equipment and facilities maintenance, safety training, etc.  The appellant develops annual District safety goals with many related to identified safety hazards; writes local safety policies including supplementing agency guidance for application at the District level; executes the safety program budget; creates and maintains emergency management training curricula for local presentation; and conducts safety training classes. 

The appellant conducts a variety of safety mishap/accident investigations, studies, surveys, and inspections.  He prepares accident reports and develops conclusions and makes recommendations for elimination or control of hazards and deficiencies.  His special studies focus on gathering information on the design and implementation of procedures/interventions to reduce high levels of risk and provide technical safety and occupational health guidance to supervisors for controlling losses.  The appellant regularly inspects all District facilities including warehouses, dormitories, maintenance shops and road maintenance activities, recreational areas open to the public, private concessionaires and contractor operations to assess compliance with safety and fire standards.  He reviews architectural and engineering drawings for new buildings and major alterations to ensure compliance with safety requirements, and recommends changes as needed, to ensure safety standards are met and minimize risks to human life and damage to property.  He coordinates the abatement of the findings of non-compliance in the safety/occupational health portion of the Compliance Assessment Safety Health and the Environment (CASHE) program and coordinates the local response for annual report requirements.  The abatement of findings requires the appellant to independently prioritize, identify options and propose abatement actions for funding required abatements.  In support he prepares risk assessments and hazard abatement plans, details the scope of work, and prepares a project statement and estimate of costs related to the abatement actions. 

The appellant conducts, develops, reviews and/or arranges training for employees, including new employee orientation, and trains on motor vehicle accident prevention, all-terrain vehicle and forklift operation.  He coordinates educational activities related to specialized programs such as blood borne pathogens, hazard communication, and chainsaw certification.  The incumbent is also responsible for the development, coordination, and exercise of the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) to ensure the District is prepared for any type of local or national emergency. 

In reaching our classification decision, we have carefully reviewed all information provided by the appellant and his agency including his official PD which, although not completely accurate, we have incorporated by reference into this decision.  In addition, to help decide the appeal we conducted separate telephone interviews with the appellant and his former supervisor.  We also attempted to interview his current supervisor.  He stated he has only supervised the appellant for four months, and thus was unable to furnish any information regarding the appellant’s duties and responsibilities or the accuracy of his PD. 

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency has classified the appellant’s position in the Safety and Occupational Health Management Series, GS-018, titling it Safety and Occupational Health Manager, and the appellant does not disagree.  We concur with the agency’s title and series determination.  The GS-018 PCS contains grading criteria which must be applied to positions in that series.  Therefore, our evaluation of the grade of the position by application of the GS-018 grading criteria follows. 

Grade determination

The classification standard for the Safety and Occupational Health Management Series, GS-018, uses the Factor Evaluation System (FES) format, which employs nine factors.  Under the FES, each factor-level in a standard describes the minimum characteristics needed to receive credit for the described level.  Therefore, if a position fails to meet the criteria in a factor-level description in any significant aspect, it must be credited at a lower level unless the deficiency is balanced by an equally important aspect that meets a higher level.  Conversely, the position may exceed those criteria in some aspects and still not be credited at a higher level.  Each factor-level has a corresponding point value.  The total points assigned are converted to a grade by use of the grade conversion table in the standard. 

The appellant disagrees with his agency’s assignment using the GS-018 classification standard of Level 3-3 (Guidelines), Level 4-4 (Complexity), and Level 5-3 (Scope and Effect).  He concurs with his agency’s assignment of Levels 1-7, 2-4, 6-3, 7-3, 8-2, and 9-2.  After careful review, we concur with the agency’s assignment of the preceding levels and thus have not specifically addressed them in our discussion that follows.  Therefore, our evaluation discusses only those factor-levels in dispute.

Factor 3, Guidelines

This factor covers the nature of guidelines and the judgment needed to apply them.

At Level 3-3, the safety and occupational health manager or specialist has available for application public laws, Executive orders, State and municipal codes, OSHA standards, agency manuals, procurement contract clauses, safety council reports, national safety association publications, and manufacturing association criteria.  The work assignment typically requires independent interpretation, evaluation, selection and application of guidelines to specific situations including modifications and adaptations when necessary.  In addition, judgment frequently must be exercised in applying standard hazard control or elimination practices to different situations. 

At Level 3-4, the available guidelines tend to lack specificity for many applications such as departmental or agency policies, recent developmental results, and findings and approaches of nationally recognized safety and occupational health organizations.  These guidelines also are often insufficient to resolve highly complex or unusual work problems such as determining the potential hazard of detonating various experimental explosive devices in a research and development environment.  The safety and occupational health manager or specialist must modify and extend accepted principles and practices in the development of solutions to problems where available precedents are not directly applicable.  Experienced judgment and initiative are required to evaluate new trends for policy development or for further inquiry and study leading to new methods for eliminating or controlling serious hazards to life and property. 

The appellant’s position meets Level 3-3.  Like this level, the appellant applies a variety of safety and occupational health guidelines including both Federal and State of [name] occupational safety and health standards (particularly [State name] published safety standards for logging operations), various BLM references and guidelines (e.g., Employee Field Safety Handbook), representative procurement contract clauses addressing safety, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules (e.g., guidance on testing water systems), BLM published rules on safety measures when using agency parks and recreational areas, safety council reports, and national safety association publications.  He also uses specific guidelines on dealing with hazardous materials (e.g., diesel spills, “meth” lab wastes dumped on District property), and various source and informational material addressing tick and hobo spider bites, H1N1 Bird Influenza, responding to emergency medical and other situations, local Fire Department search and rescue guidelines, and agency publications on safety measures needed when combating forest wildfires.  Like Level 3-3, the appellant independently interprets, evaluates, selects, and applies these guidelines to specific situations, sometimes modifying and adapting them when necessary.  For example, in dealing with the presence of ticks and hobo spiders in the District’s camp grounds and recreational areas, the appellant reviewed relevant literature, consulted with local college entomologists and medical personnel, and then modified and adapted recognized abatement measures for a written District policy governing the [name] District’s field work and recreational activities.  Similar to Level 3-3, the appellant exercises judgment in applying standard hazard control measures or elimination practices to different situations, e.g., dealing with fuel spills, toxic wastes. 

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 3-4.  Unlike this level, the guidelines and source materials he uses are sufficiently specific for dealing with safety and occupational health risks and hazards regularly encountered within the [name] District.  The record shows the appellant is not faced with having to resolve highly complex or unusual work problems comparable to the example in Level 3-4 (i.e., detonating an experimental explosive device in a research and development environment), where guidelines are insufficient to resolve work problems.  On the contrary, the safety risks encountered in activities such as controlling wildfires, road maintenance, and visitors using recreational or camp ground areas, etc., are adequately covered by guidelines (and related precedents) discussed above under Level 3-3, and thus do not entail modification and extension of accepted safety principles and practices typical of Level 3-4.  While the appellant applies experienced judgment and initiative in his work identifying and tracking safety risks and hazard trends (e.g., vehicle accidents and trailer usage, visitor injuries, illegal waste disposal), we did not find he identifies and evaluates new trends leading to policy development, or further inquiry and study, resulting in new methods promulgated at higher agency levels for eliminating or controlling serious hazards to life and property. 

This factor is evaluated at Level 3-3 and 275 points are credited.

Factor 4, Complexity

This factor covers the nature, number, variety, and intricacy of tasks, steps, processes, or methods in the work performed; the difficulty in identifying what needs to be done; and the difficulty and originality involved in performing the work. 

At Level 4-4, the assignments cover a wide range of work operations and environmental conditions involving a substantial number and diversity of hazards; or a wide variety of independent and continuing assignments in a specialized area of safety and occupational health that have exacting technical requirements.  The safety and occupational health manager or specialist evaluates a variety of complex, interrelated physical conditions, operating practices, hazardous human-machine interaction, and serious mishaps.  Assignments require analysis of unconventional safety and occupational health problems or circumstances, inconclusive facts or data and are characterized by the uncertainty of accepted control or abatement methods that are available for selection and use.  The nature of hazards is such that generally no single approach is adequate to control or eliminate a given problem; rather, the adaptation of proven safety and occupational health techniques is necessary.  The work typically requires interpretation of a variety of occupational circumstances to adapt known control or protective measures to eliminate or minimize hazardous situations. 

At Level 4-5, the work includes broad and diverse assignments requiring innovative analysis of high safety risk activities.  The safety and occupational health manager or specialist weighs, considers and evaluates:  (1) high safety risks in a field with constantly changing hazards; or (2) serious conflicts between operational requirements involving hazardous materials and the application of safety and occupational health standards that require protective measures affecting the timeliness of mission accomplishment; or (3) diverse hazardous work processes and environmental conditions for a broad field characterized by a wide variety of problems such as extreme fluctuation in workforce employees assigned high safety risk jobs, large number of visitors engaged in hazardous activities, or widespread geographic dispersion of operations.  In many instances, elimination or control of unsound but often traditional work practices and dangerous physical conditions threatening individual safety and property requires the development of new accident prevention techniques for modification of accepted specialized safety procedures. 

The appellant’s position meets Level 4-4.  Like this level, his assignments cover a wide range of work operations and environmental conditions involving a substantial number and diversity of hazards.  Work operations throughout the [name] District include road maintenance; contractor logging; recreation, camp site, and trail maintenance; forest silvaculture (tending the forest); controlling wild fires; and vehicle maintenance.  Many of these operations are performed in varying environmental conditions including rain, hot weather, winds, and cold winter weather.  Similar to Level 4-4, work operations involve a substantial number and diversity of hazards including all-terrain vehicle accidents, construction accidents involving road maintenance machinery and moving equipment (e.g., excavators, bobcats, backhoes), insect bites, slips, trips, and falls during trail maintenance or construction, falling tree branches or cables during logging, exposure to spills of hazardous chemicals and petroleum products, and burns from forest wild fires. 

Like Level 4-4, through safety inspections, surveys, and investigations the appellant evaluates a variety of complex, interrelated physical conditions, operating practices (e.g., logging and road maintenance procedures), hazardous human-machine interactions during road maintenance work, and serious mishaps such as accidents, burns, and respiratory ailments caused by exposure to hazardous chemical fumes and substances, and heat stress from working in hot weather.  Similar to Level 4-4, the appellant’s assignments sometimes require analysis of unconventional safety and occupational health problems or circumstances characterized by the uncertainty of accepted control or abatement methods available for selection or use.  For example, “meth lab” waste products illegally dumped on District lands present significant problems in identifying the hazardous chemical substances present, and then determining the appropriate method for removal of the substances and clean-up of contaminated areas. 

Comparable to Level 4-4, due to the nature and variety of hazards encountered in the [name] District generally no single approach is adequate to control or eliminate a given problem, thus the appellant must adapt proven safety and occupational health techniques as necessary.  This is particularly true when dealing with a number of hazardous chemical substances dumped on District lands, or complex work processes (logging), where the appellant must interpret and apply a number of different but known mitigation techniques to control, eliminate, or minimize the hazardous situation. 

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 4-5.  Unlike this level, while the appellant deals with diverse hazards and sometimes high safety risk activities, his assignments do not require innovative analysis of such risks.  Although he evaluates various risks encountered throughout the District, unlike Level 4-5 they are recurring and not constantly changing, and mitigation processes are generally in-place to deal with them.  They do not typically present serious conflicts between meeting the timeliness of mission accomplishment and the need to take measures to reduce a particular safety risk.  Although the appellant is confronted with diverse hazardous work processes and environmental conditions throughout the District’s geographic area, unlike Level 4-5 they are not characterized by a wide variety of problems where there is, for example, extreme fluctuation in workforce employees assigned high safety risk jobs.  On the contrary, although the District employs many seasonal workers and student volunteers, high safety risk work is primarily confined to a limited number of skilled permanent employees engaged in road maintenance, vehicle maintenance and repair, and oversight of logging operations.  In contrast to Level 4-5, while thousands of individuals visit the District’s geographically dispersed parks, camp grounds, and recreation areas each year, most are not engaged in hazardous activities.  Unlike Level 4-5, the record shows the appellant is not regularly engaged in the development of new accident prevention techniques for modification of specialized safety procedures, particularly high risk safety activities.  Rather, we find these already have established safety operational requirements. 

This factor is evaluated at Level 4-4 and 225 points are credited. 

Factor 5, Scope and effect

This factor covers the relationship between the nature of the work, i.e., the purpose, breadth, and depth of the assignment, and the effect of work products or services both within and outside the organization. 

At Level 5-3, the work involves the evaluation and analysis of safety and occupational health problems, conditions, and administrative practices affecting work operations and environmental conditions.  Work efforts affect the quality of surveys and inspections conducted, the adequacy of techniques applied to control or eliminate hazards, and the physical safety and occupational health of employees and the general public. 

At Level 5-4, the purpose of the work is to assess the effectiveness of specific programs, projects, or functions.  The safety and occupational manager or specialist plans alternative courses of specialized action to resolve hazardous conditions and unsafe working practices.  The work often involves the development of safety and occupational health criteria and procedures for major agency activities.  Work products impact on:  (1) a wide range of agency safety and occupational health programs; or (2) safety and occupational health programs of large, private sector establishments. 

The appellant’s position meets Level 5-3.  Like this level, as the [name] District safety manager he regularly conducts safety and occupational health inspections, surveys, and investigations (as needed) to evaluate and analyze safety and occupational problems, conditions, and administrative practices impacting work operations and environmental conditions.  He also presents safety related training to employees (e.g., new employee orientations), and conducts safety and occupational health promotional and awareness activities.  As part of his analysis and evaluation of the District’s safety program, he prepares a year-end comprehensive program assessment for District management and the local safety committee addressing fiscal year accomplishments of the District’s safety program.  Like Level 5-3, the appellant’s work efforts affect the quality of surveys and inspections conducted, the adequacy of procedures used to control or eliminate a variety of hazards in a field environment, and the physical safety and occupational health of District employees and the general public visiting District recreational, camp ground, and park facilities. 

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 5-4.  Although he does an annual overall assessment of the District’s safety program to measure compliance with agency level requirements and determine success in meeting local objectives, he typically does not plan alternative courses of specialized action to resolve hazardous conditions and unsafe working practices.  In addition, his work does not often involve the development of safety and occupational health criteria and procedures for major agency activities.  Our fact-finding disclosed he has only occasionally (i.e., one and a half years ago) been called upon by agency headquarters safety staff to contribute information and suggest safety measures for inclusion in BLM’s Safety Handbook and Manual 1112-1 on such topics as trailer safety and safe operation of all-terrain vehicles on agency lands; and once or twice has been called upon to participate in a Bureau-level ad hoc safety committee to address potential changes in agency safety policies.  Unlike Level 5-4, although the appellant provides quarterly safety trend data to the State Office, his work products primarily impact on ensuring safe working practices and occupational health procedures covering the District’s operations rather than impacting on a broad range of BLM-wide safety and occupational health programs.  Moreover, although logging operations on the District are performed by a mix of large and small business contractors, in contrast to Level 5-4 his work products do not significantly impact their safety and occupational health programs.  

This factor is evaluated at Level 5-3 and 150 points are credited.

Summary of FES factors

Factor Level Points
1.  Knowledge Required by the Position 1-7 1250
2.  Supervisory Controls 2-4 450
3.  Guidelines 3-3 275
4.  Complexity 4-4 225
5.  Scope and Effect 5-3 150
6.  Personal Contacts 6-3 60
7.  Purpose of Contacts 7-3 120
8.  Physical Demands 8-2 20
9.  Work Environment 9-2 20
Total 2570

 

A total of 2570 points falls within the GS-11 grade range (2355-2750) on the Grade Conversion Table in the GS-018 PCS.  Therefore, the appellant's duties are graded at the GS-11 level.

Decision

The appellant’s position is properly classified as Safety and Occupational Health Manager, GS-018-11. 

 

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