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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

Martin L. Jones
Industrial Hygienist
GS-690-12
Safety Office
Iowa City Veterans Affairs
Health Care System
Veterans Health Administration
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Iowa City, Iowa
Industrial Hygienist
GS-690-11
C-0690-11-03

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

10/06/2015


Date

As provided in section 511.612 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 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).

Since this decision lowers the grade of the appealed position, it is to be effective no later than the beginning of the sixth pay period after the date of this decision, as permitted by 5 CFR 511.702.  The applicable provisions of 5 CFR parts 351, 432, 536, and 752 must be followed in implementing the decision.  If the appellant is entitled to grade retention, the two-year retention period begins on the date this decision is implemented.  The servicing human resources office must submit a compliance report containing the revised position description 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.

Introduction

On March 3, 2015, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Chicago Agency Compliance and Evaluation accepted a classification appeal from Mr. Martin L. Jones.  The appellant’s position is currently classified as Industrial Hygienist, GS-690-12.  He believes it should be classified at either the GS-12 or GS-13 grade level.  The position is assigned to the Safety Office, Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System (HCS), Veterans Health Administration (VHA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in Iowa City, Iowa.  We received the complete agency’s administrative report on April 27, 2015.  Due to program workload considerations, the appeal was transferred to Dallas Agency Compliance and Evaluation for adjudication.  We have accepted and decided this appeal under section 5112 of title 5, United States Code (U.S.C.).

Background and general issues

The appellant requested a review of the classification of his position from his servicing human resources (HR) office.  At the time, his GS-690-12 position was assigned to position description (PD), number 004272.  The HR office’s December 22, 2014, evaluation determined his position was instead properly classified at the GS-11 grade level and assigned to PD number 50244.  In a January 22, 2015, memorandum, the VA’s Office of Human Resources Management stated they had reviewed and concurred with the HR office’s evaluation of the appellant’s position.  However, no action was taken to effect the downgrade action due to HR Management Letter 15-12-07, issued on June 29, 2012, temporarily suspending classification-related change to lower grade actions across VA.  The appellant subsequently filed a classification appeal with OPM.  In adjudicating this appeal, our responsibility is to make our own independent decision on the proper classification of the appellant’s position.  Because our decision sets aside all previous agency decisions, the HR office’s December 2014 findings are not germane to this decision.

The appellant states he performs work similar to industrial hygienist positions assigned to other VA HCSs but classified at the GS-12 or higher grade levels.  By law, we must classify positions solely by comparing their current duties and responsibilities to OPM position classification standards (PCS) and guidelines (5 U.S.C. 5106, 5107, and 5112).  Since comparison to the PCSs and guidelines is the exclusive method for classifying positions, we cannot compare the appellant’s current duties to other positions, which may or may not be classified properly, as the basis for deciding this appeal.

Like OPM, VA must classify positions based on comparison to OPM’s PCSs and guidelines.  Under 5 CFR 511.612, agencies are required to review their own classification decisions for identical, similar, or related positions to ensure consistency with OPM certificates.  Consequently, VA has primary responsibility for ensuring its positions are classified consistently with OPM appeal decisions.  The copy of a position description submitted by the appellant and a previous appeal decision we issued on a similar position show positions at other VA medical centers may be classified inconsistently with the appellant’s position.  Therefore, we have asked the agency to give our office an intra-agency classification consistency report.  In making its report, the agency will review positions that are identical, similar, or related to the appellant’s position to ensure that they are classified consistently with this appeal decision.  The Introduction, appendix 4, section I, provides more information about such reports.  We have asked the agency to inform the appellant of the results of its consistency review.

The appellant mentions his various degrees, experience, and other personal qualifications in his appeal request to OPM.  In addition to having earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Industrial Hygiene, he is a Certified Industrial Hygienist, a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and other professional organizations, and was recognized as an AIHA Fellow (one of 200 in the AIHA with 8,000 members).  Qualifications are considered in classifying positions only to the extent these are qualifications required to perform the current duties and responsibilities assigned to and performed by an employee.  Therefore, we could not consider the appellant’s personal qualifications except insofar as they were required to perform his current duties and responsibilities.

Position information

The appellant serves as the Green Environmental Management Systems (GEMS) Coordinator for the HCS.  The HCS includes the main hospital and ten community-based outpatient clinics, and provides services to more than 184,000 veterans residing in the 50 counties of Eastern Iowa, Western Illinois, and Northern Missouri.  The HCS employs an estimated 1,700 employees who provide the full range of patient care services with state of the art technology and research programs.  Comprehensive health care is provided through primary, acute, tertiary, and long-term care in areas of medicine, surgery, neurology, radiation, oncology, and audiology.  The appellant is directly supervised by the Safety Manager, who occupies a GS-803-13 Supervisory Safety Engineer position.

As the GEMS Coordinator and primary environmental expert at the HCS, the appellant is responsible for developing, implementing, and interpreting environmental policies and programs in accordance with agency policies and guidelines.  He reviews criteria, standards, and instructions developed by the VA and regulatory bodies, adapting and supplementing criteria for local instructions and processes.  The appellant carries out environmental and other industrial hygiene related programs and activities in areas including, but not limited to, hazardous and pharmaceutical waste disposal, respiratory protection and ventilation, decontamination, confined space entry, and personal protective equipment (PPE).  His duties consist of environmental monitoring, compliance, recordkeeping, and surveillance.  For example, the appellant ensures toxic materials are properly stored and secured according to prescribed measures and regulations.  He provides industrial hygiene, occupational health, and safety services to employees and management of supported activities, responding to requests and complaints from employees and visitors of the HCS and advising management on how relevant policies, procedures, and systems will affect facility operations.  He also instructs employees and management on chemical, biological, and physical safety requirements in order to eliminate and/or reduce workplace accidents and injuries.

The appellant also conducts workplace inspections, audits, and surveys to ensure environmental compliance and to identify, evaluate, and control conditions or hazards with the potential of causing illness or injury to employees performing HCS operations.  By conducting routine inspections, he identifies potential health hazards, detects the presence of improperly stored toxic materials, conducts reviews of work processes, and makes overall determinations regarding compliance with environmental, occupational health, and safety standards.  Likewise, he performs investigations as a result of complaints and inquiries from staff, illnesses or discomforts caused by exposure of workers to certain environmental conditions, discovery of unidentifiable and thus potentially toxic materials, and other situations typical of the hospital environment.  His investigations may require recommending changes to existing work practices, administrative controls, and/or engineering controls.  As Contracting Officer Representative (COR) for the HCS’s waste disposal contracts, the appellant develops contract specifications and assures contractors meet performance requirements of the contract in terms of quality, quantity, and timeliness.

As mentioned previously, the appellant’s position is currently assigned to GS-12 PD, number 004272.  Although the agency determined his position is properly classified at the GS-11 grade level and assigned to PD number 50244, no action was taken to effect the downgrade or assign the position to the associated PD as a result of HR Management Letter 15-12-07 which temporarily postpones VA-wide change to lower grade classification actions.  However, the appellant and immediate supervisor certified to the accuracy of the duties described by PD number 50244.  This PD and other material of record furnish much more information about the appellant’s duties and responsibilities and how they are performed and we incorporate it by reference into this decision.  Position classification appeal regulations permit OPM to investigate or audit a position and decide an appeal on the basis of the duties and responsibilities assigned by management and performed by the employee.  Because an OPM appeal decision classifies a real operating position and not simply the work depicted in a PD, this decision is based on the actual work assigned to and performed by the employee.

To help decide this appeal, we conducted telephone audits with the appellant on July 13, July 24, August 26, and August 28, 2015; a telephone interview with the immediate supervisor on July 30, 2015; and a telephone interview with the GEMS Consultant for the Veterans Integrated Service Network on September 3, 2015.  In reaching our classification decision, we carefully considered all of the information gained from these interviews, as well as the written information furnished by the appellant and his agency.

Series, title, and standard determination

The agency assigned the appellant’s position to the GS-690 Industrial Hygiene Series, titled it Industrial Hygienist, and applied the grading criteria in the PCS for Industrial Hygiene Series, GS-690.  The appellant does not disagree and, after careful review of the record, we concur.

Grade determination

The GS-690 PCS is written in the Factor Evaluation System (FES) format, under which factor levels and accompanying point values are assigned for each of the nine factors.  The total is converted to a grade level by use of the grade conversion table provided in the PCS.  Under the FES, each factor-level description demonstrates the minimum characteristics needed to receive credit for the described level.  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 an equally important aspect that meets a higher level balances the deficiency.  Conversely, the position may exceed those criteria in some aspects and still not be credited at a higher level.

The appellant’s initial request to OPM cited disagreement with the agency’s evaluation of Factors 1, 2, 3, 8, and 9, but he subsequently questioned their evaluation of Factors 4 and 5 as well during telephone audits with OPM.  We reviewed the agency’s crediting of Levels 6-3 and 7-3, concur, and have credited the position accordingly.  Therefore, our evaluation will focus on the factors contested by the appellant.

Factor 1, Knowledge Required by the Position

This factor measures the nature and extent of information or facts the employee must understand to do acceptable work (e.g., steps, procedures, practices, rules, policies, regulations, and principles) and the nature and extent of the skills needed to apply the knowledge.

At Level 1-7, work requires professional knowledge and skills applicable to the performance of industrial hygiene duties related to a wide range of industrial settings; or, an intensive knowledge of a specialty area of industrial hygiene (chemical aspects, etc.).  Examples of assignments representing this level of knowledge are:  skill in identifying, evaluating, and controlling a wide variety of occupational health hazards associated with the entire range of industrial work operations; skill in modifying approaches or applications within a specialty area to such difficult problems as sampling method development, high temperature exhaust ventilation control, and establishing PPE requirements; or a knowledge of the full range of sampling techniques and control measures, as well as a knowledge of administrative and managerial principles and procedures, to plan, implement, and evaluate an industrial hygiene program covering occupational health hazards found in all but the most complex industrial environments.

An illustration at Level 1-7 describes work applying knowledge and skills necessary to conduct a full range of industrial hygiene sampling techniques and control measures, and a knowledge of administrative practices necessary to manage an industrial hygiene program covering light to moderately complex industrial operations, such as industrial shops, laboratories using some hazardous materials, supply depots, warehouses where hazardous material is stored or transported, building construction and similar environments.  Work at this level entails directing or performing such functions as planning and initiating surveys or work operations, processes and materials to detect potentially hazardous conditions; and determining the location and number of sampling points, equipment requirements, and applying methods and techniques of data analysis.

At Level 1-8, work includes mastery of the professional concepts, principles, and practices of industrial hygiene that would enable the industrial hygienist to apply experienced judgment and a knowledge of new developments to solve novel or obscure problems; an ability to extend and modify existing techniques; and skill in developing new approaches which may be used by other industrial hygienists in solving a variety of occupational health problems.  Typically, the employee is recognized by the agency as being an expert in the broad practice of industrial hygiene or in a major specialization, such as chemical, toxicological, or engineering aspects.  Other examples of Level 1-8 work include serving as an agency expert and making decisions or recommendations that significantly affect the context, interpretation, or development of agency policies or programs concerning critical industrial hygiene matters.

An illustration at Level 1-8 describes work applying knowledge and skills sufficient to serve as a recognized expert for the agency in industrial hygiene, having responsibility for developing policy and program objectives, appraising programs, and providing consultative services to management and technical personnel on a wide variety of occupational health problems.  Another illustration at Level 1-8 describes work applying expert knowledge of industrial hygiene and of administrative practices necessary to manage a comprehensive industrial hygiene program for a major facility or region when the industrial hygiene program covers large, complex industrial operations; or experimental work involving a wide variety of new chemical agents; or hazardous chemical, bacteriological, or radiological agents in undeveloped or critical stages; or equivalent situations.

The appellant’s position meets Level 1-7.  His position requires knowledge and skill to develop, manage, and oversee the HCS’s GEMS program involving technical complexities and work operations equal to Level 1-7, i.e., involving health hazards typical of a hospital environment and light to moderately complex industrial operations.  Similar to Level 1-7, he is skilled at evaluating and controlling a wide variety of occupational health hazards associated with the entire range of work operations performed at the HCS.  His environmental monitoring, compliance, recordkeeping, surveillance, and other work requires intensive knowledge of advanced concepts, principles, and practices of hazardous waste disposal, air quality, environmentally safe construction methods, PPE, confined space entry, spill cleanup procedures, etc.

Also at Level 1-7, the appellant’s position requires professional knowledge of industrial hygiene concepts, principles, and practices to conduct industrial hygiene inspections, and to provide staff with advice on a broad range of matters particularly related to GEMS program policies, issues, and problems.  He conducts surveys and inspections of worksites to determine compliance with VA, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and various environmental, occupational health, and safety standards and regulations.  This work requires knowledge of work operations and processes; materials and equipment used; construction, operation, and maintenance of healthcare facilities; and byproducts generated by HCS organizations.  His position also requires knowledge of systems related to controlling pollution, increasing sustainable practices (e.g., recycling, product substitution, and energy efficiency), and protecting the environment.  Similar to Level 1-7, the appellant’s position requires skill in using sampling instrumentation and knowledge of a wide variety of health hazards, toxic chemicals, etc., to perform his work.  He interacts with HCS staff to ensure hazardous and toxic chemicals utilized or generated at the hospital, clinics, and research facilities are stored, secured, and disposed of properly according to prescribed standards and regulations.  This work requires knowledge of researching technical literature and publications to apply technical information to various environmental and other healthcare issues.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 1-8, stating in his appeal request to OPM that he “has been asked to help develop national policies and programs through participation on multiple VHA technical and professional advisory groups.”  For example, he participates on the Compliance and Process Track Professional Advisory Group for VHA’s Center for Engineering and Occupational Safety and Health (CEOSH).  The Group is responsible for formulating recommendations to enhance the software system used to record environmental compliance information for VHA facilities.  As a participant on the Environmental Survey Technical Advisory Group for VHA’s Healthcare Analysis and Information Group, the appellant participated in the development of a national survey to analyze the effectiveness of the VHA’s environmental programs.  He also served as a participant, Vice Chair, and Chair on VHA’s GEMS Advisory Group which serves as a communication mechanism between GEMS staff at medical centers and HCSs, CEOSH, and other agency organizations to discuss issues of concern, best practices, and opportunities for improvement.

We understand the appellant is highly regarded as suggested by his active participation on various agency-level committees, his instigating recommendations and program initiatives that were subsequently adopted, and his providing occasional advice and guidance to inquiries from counterparts at other medical centers and HCSs as well as industrial hygienists at higher-level VHA organizations.  While serving on advisory committees, the appellant recommends procedures and other guidelines for policy development, contributing to advisory products that are designed in committees whose end products are required to be reviewed and approved as a committee prior to agency dissemination.  However, this work does not control the grade of his position.  The appellant’s PD (numbers 004272 and 50244), performance standards, and our interviews confirm the primary purpose of his position is to serve as GEMS Coordinator at his HCS.  His regular and recurring work involves carrying out surveys, inspections, and other industrial hygiene tasks for the HCS which, as a component of the VHA, is not considered an “agency” within the meaning of the PCS.  Although he is considered the primary environmental expert at the HCS, he is not an agency expert vested with the authority to make decisions or recommendations significantly affecting the context, interpretation, or development of agency-wide policies or programs concerning critical industrial hygiene matters as expected at Level 1-8.  Such responsibilities are vested at higher VHA and VA levels.

The appellant works independently in the course of carrying out his industrial hygiene duties, but the extent of his duties are not at the level which would provide for the opportunity typical of Level 1-8 for the innovation and implementation of new approaches impacting on the direction of the industrial hygiene and safety programs throughout the agency.  Instead, he provides advice on the local planning and programming requirements pertaining to compliance with the State’s Department of Natural Resources, EPA, and other policy directives and procedures relating to GEMS, pollution prevention, sustainable practices, recycling, energy efficiency, procurement, and environmental compliance.  He initiates surveys of work operations to detect and control workers’ exposure levels to known hazardous substances generated by various work processes of the main hospital and its clinics.  The HCS is over half a million square feet, offers all medical specialties, and involves radiology, medical research laboratories, and facility maintenance.  Although he deals with a wide range of chemical and other hazards as a result, there is no evidence they are particularly “novel” within the meaning intended at Level 1-8 (i.e., they are not unique to the work carried out at other hospitals).  In order to assign Level 1-8, it is expected that these types of problems would occur on a regular and recurring basis with a predictable degree of frequency.  The appellant’s position deals with various issues at the HCS involving, for example, the identification of proper disposal methods for housekeeping and other wastes generated by the organization, the collection and disposal of pharmaceuticals, and the identification and proper disposal methods of unknown substances discovered at HCS worksites.  Most situations will involve known materials where methods and standards concerning the handling of the materials are established beforehand.  Thus, the appellant is not regularly confronted with novel or obscure problems at his HCS requiring significantly extending and modifying existing techniques, and developing new approaches to be used by other industrial hygienists as expected at Level 1-8.

Factor 1-7 is credited for 1,250 points.

Factor 2, Supervisory Controls

This factor covers the nature and extent of direct or indirect controls exercised by the supervisor, the employee’s responsibility, and the review of completed work.

At Level 2-4, the supervisor sets the overall objectives and resources available.  The employee and supervisor, in consultation, develop the deadlines, projects and work to be done; or in some cases, the employee may have continuing responsibility for a particular geographical or subject-matter area.  The employee, having developed expertise in industrial hygiene, is responsible for planning and carrying out the assignment, for resolving most conflicts that arise, for coordinating the work with others as necessary, and for interpreting policy on own initiative in terms of established objectives.  For most inspections, evaluations, and special studies, the employee determines the approach to be taken and the methodology to be used.  The employee keeps the supervisor informed of progress, potentially controversial matters, or far-reaching implications.  Completed work is reviewed only from an overall standpoint in terms of feasibility, compatibility with other work, or effectiveness in meeting requirements of expected results.

At Level 2-5, the supervisor provides administrative direction with assignments in terms of broadly defined missions or functions.  The employee has responsibility for planning, designing, and carrying out programs, projects, studies, or other work independently.  Results of the work are considered to be technically authoritative and are normally accepted without significant change.  If the work should be reviewed, the review concerns such matters as fulfillment of program objectives, effect of advice, and influence of the overall program, or contribution to the advancement of technology.  Recommendations for new projects or alteration of objectives are usually evaluated for such considerations as availability of funds and other resources, broad program goals, or national priorities.

The supervisory controls over the appellant’s position meet Level 2-4.  He is responsible for developing and implementing comprehensive industrial hygiene programs to maintain a safe environment for employees, patients, and visitors of the HCS.  Similar to Level 2-4, the supervisor sets the overall objectives applicable to assigned programs and defines the financial and other management resources available to achieve expected results.  The appellant’s work assignments are often identified in consultation and collaboration with his supervisor; however, the appellant decides the priorities and importance of each assignment as well as how the assignments are implemented and carried out.  Assignments include conducting and coordinating inspections and audits, ensuring on-going disposal of hazardous materials, and instructing HCS employees and management on chemical, biological, and physical safety requirements.  The appellant is responsible for deciding the appropriate methods, techniques, approaches, and proper courses of action.  As at Level 2-4, he resolves most procedural and other conflicts and issues but keeps the supervisor informed of progress and potentially controversial matters with far-reaching implications.  His completed work, such as technical reports of program accomplishments, is reviewed only from the overall standpoint in terms of compatibility with other agency activities, effectiveness in meeting safety objectives, and staying within allocated budget amounts as expected at Level 2-4.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 2-5, stating in his appeal request to OPM:

The incumbent is considered to be a technical authority for health, safety and environmental issues, and interprets policies and directives that are developed by authorities that are above their immediate supervisor in order to assess their effect on overall program needs.  The incumbent also defines program objectives and independently designs, plans and carries out work activities.  The incumbent’s supervisor reviews completed work for consistency and accepts work as being technically authoritative and not needing significant change.

The supervisory controls over the appellant’s position do not meet Level 2-5, which describes significantly greater independence and responsibility than that delegated to his position.  His work results are considered to be technically authoritative and are normally accepted without significant change.  However, the technical and policy issues he deals with at the HCS are not of the breadth or depth found at Level 2-5 where, for example, recommendations for new projects or alteration of objectives are usually evaluated for such considerations as availability of funds and other resources, broad program goals, or national priorities.  The supervisor, as Safety Manager, is the recipient of various safety-related inquiries and complaints from HCS employees.  Thus, he expects the appellant and other Safety Office staff to keep him informed of current assignments so that he can distribute work equitably when assigning inquiries, complaints, and other tasks to subordinate staff for resolution.  The supervisor also expects staff to keep him informed of any situation that may potentially require the attention of HCS leadership staff, involve funding, and cross or involve multiple safety disciplines (e.g., recommendations to install handrails to an uneven sidewalk).  The supervisor also adjusts work priorities of the Safety Office staff, when necessary, to ensure pressing issues such as a veteran’s access to care are dealt with promptly.  So unlike Level 2-5, the appellant’s supervisor does not provide only an administrative direction of assignments in terms of broadly defined missions or functions.

Level 2-4 is credited for 450 points.

Factor 3, Guidelines

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

At Level 3-3, guidelines include Federal standards and criteria documents, standards published by recognized organizations and professional societies, technical literature, agency policies and regulations, precedents, office files, and standard practices.  While these guidelines are available, they are not always completely applicable to the work.  The industrial hygienist independently selects, evaluates, and applies the guides, making adaptations when necessary, or recommending changes.  In addition, the industrial hygienist must exercise judgment in applying standard practices to new situations and in relating new work situations to precedent ones.

At Level 3-4, guidelines are essentially the same as in Level 3-3.  However, the work assignments are such that these guidelines are often inadequate in dealing with the more complex or unusual problems, such as treating hazards for which very little information on toxicity is available.  The industrial hygienist must adapt and apply industrial hygiene principles and practices to situations where precedents are not directly applicable and must use experienced judgment and initiative in selecting approaches, evaluating findings, and researching new developments in the field.  In some cases, the employee must engage in an extensive literature search to locate suitable information.  Some situations require the employee to devise new approaches or develop new methods for evaluating or controlling a health hazard.

The appellant’s guidelines meet Level 3-3.  Similar to this level, his guidelines include Federal, State, and local environmental standards and regulations; agency manuals and directives; Executive Orders; Federal occupational health and safety standards; technical journals and publications from various professional associations; and reports on past studies and established practices.  In addition to the availability of textbooks, manufacturers’ catalogs, and other technical materials, the appellant’s guidelines include agency instructions which are typically quite broad and general in nature.  Like Level 3-3, he independently selects, evaluates, and applies EPA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and other applicable industry guides and reference materials, making adaptations when necessary.  To complete day-to-day tasks as the HCS’s GEMS Coordinator, the appellant operates within established laws and regulations, policies, and industry standards containing, for example, specific information, guidance, and protocol for storing, securing, monitoring, and disposing of hazardous and non-hazardous materials.  He coordinates with principal organizational representatives and uses initiative to negotiate compliance with environmental policies, standards, and regulations in terms of established objectives.  As guidelines are not always applicable to situations occurring at the HCS, the appellant’s handling of hazardous and pharmaceutical waste disposal, PPE, respiratory protection, and other issues involves the application of standard practices to new situations as expected at Level 3-3.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 3-4, stating in his appeal request to OPM that his GEMS programs “were developed with very little guidance or input from higher level agency representatives.”  The guidelines required of his position, however, do not meet Level 3-4 as his HCS-level GEMS program work does not typically require the improvisation or creation of new approaches or techniques with the frequency required to credit Level 3-4.  For example, the appellant does not routinely treat hazards for which very little information on toxicity is available as the main hospital, clinics, and laboratories typically use commercially available equipment and chemicals for which the hazards are known and well documented.  Unlike Level 3-4, his position does not require exercising initiative and judgment to identify, modify for agency use, and/or incorporate the latest and most pertinent technological concepts and practices.  Also in contrast to Level 3-4, the appellant’s position does not require exercising judgment and ingenuity to develop nationwide technical guidelines (for use by others inside and/or outside of the agency) which typically include subjects on professional methods for which existing guides are totally lacking or technically inadequate for use in the agency’s work.

Level 3-3 is credited for 275 points.

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, assignments cover the full spectrum of occupational health hazards found in all but the most complex industrial environments.  Thus, the assigned work activities involve a substantial amount and variety of exposure to chemical, physical, bacteriological, and/or radiological hazards.  The employee must recognize hazards which are uncommon, evaluate a variety of data, and institute or recommend effective control measures to protect the workers.  Factors to be considered include unusual work processes or operations, exotic chemicals for which toxicological information may be incomplete, and the need to adapt or modify precedent methods in the control of hazardous exposures.

At Level 4-5, work includes a broad range of activities and involves the identification and treatment of novel or obscure problems which require the employee to be versatile and innovative in adapting and modifying precedents, methods, and techniques.  Assignments are characterized by many difficult considerations due to breadth, diversity, or intensity of occupational health problems encountered.  Examples of factors to be considered include (1) major areas of uncertainty resulting from complicated work processes, such as highly complex research and development work; (2) the need to develop new methodologies for the evaluation and control of a particular health hazard where relevant literature is inadequate or nonexistent; (3) serious conflicts between industrial hygiene and management considerations; (4) health effects from long-term, chronic exposures are unknown or poorly defined; or (5)  exposures are complicated by mixtures of toxic and/or physical hazards.  Work often includes originating new techniques and developing new information for use by other occupational health personnel.

The complexity of the appellant’s position meets Level 4-4.  As at this level, his assignments cover the full spectrum of occupational health hazards covering all but the most complex industrial environments.  He is responsible for the development and ongoing compliance of the GEMS program at the main hospital and affiliated clinics, which involves providing advice on the wide range of environmental, industrial hygiene, and other safety related problems encountered by staff, patients, and visitors of the HCS.  The appellant’s duties involve a variety of exposure to chemical, physical, bacteriological, and radiological risks.  For example, he monitors and determines the most effective and efficient method for collecting, consolidating, and disposing of wastes and other harmful agents based on EPA, VA, and other hazardous waste rules.  As at Level 4-4, the appellant must recognize uncommon hazards, evaluate sampling data, and prescribe appropriate protective gear and other control measures to properly safeguard HCS staff and others.  He applies industrial hygiene principles, practices, and judgment to analyze available collection and disposal methods of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes to determine the adequacy of current methods to locally develop additional collection and disposal approaches beyond existing ones.  The appellant also conducts testing on the PPE used by HCS police officers and other staff in various controlled environments to determine the efficacy of equipment and instruct staff on appropriate usage.  He must consider unusual work processes or operations in carrying out these and other duties, thus requiring he adapt or modify precedented methods to control or eliminate hazardous exposures as described at Level 4-4.

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 4-5.  Unlike this level, he is not regularly confronted with identifying and treating novel or obscure problems requiring versatility and innovation to adapt and modify precedents, methods, and techniques.  His work entails performing internal gap analyses of the HCS’s GEMS program in preparation for evaluation by agency compliance and environmental regulation inspectors; ensuring contractors meet performance requirements established by waste disposal contract specifications; and inspecting hazardous waste and other storage areas to ensure items are stored, inventoried, and disposed of upon expiration or when appropriate.  He deals with complex problems, identifying and resolving potential issues prior to occurrence or citation by regulatory inspectors.  Since his assignments are not characterized by many difficult considerations due to the breadth and diversity of occupational health problems found at the HCS’s hospital and clinical environment, the appellant does not deal with major areas of uncertainty equal to the highly complex research and development work environment expected at Level 4-5.

Also unlike Level 4-5, the appellant neither confronts health hazards where relevant technical literature is inadequate or non-existent requiring development of new methodologies for evaluation and control, nor deals with serious conflicts between industrial hygiene and management considerations.  He reviews the implementation of GEMS policies and procedures, discussing any deficiencies and recommending preventive and corrective actions to HCS management.  Since the goal of maintaining the safety of staff, patients, and visitors to the HCS is shared by him and local management officials, the appellant does not normally deal with serious conflicts with management considerations as described at Level 4-5.  Other duties include conducting air emission samplings to detect and measure the presence of harmful conditions, and recommending corrective measures to reduce or eliminate hazards.  In contrast to Level 4-5, the health hazards addressed by the appellant do not encompass health effects from long-term, chronic exposures which are unknown or poorly defined, and his exposure to hazardous materials are not regularly complicated by mixtures of toxic and/or physical risks.  The record also shows his work does not require originating new techniques and developing new information for use by other industrial hygiene personnel as expected at Level 4-5.

Level 4-4 is credited for 225 points.

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.  Effect measures such things as whether the work output facilitates the work of others, provides timely services of a personal nature, or affects the adequacy of research conclusions.

At Level 5-3, the purpose of work is to investigate and analyze a variety of problems or conditions in the workplace which may adversely affect the health of workers, and to provide or recommend ways of eliminating problems.  The work affects the design and operation of equipment, work processes, or systems (such as evaluation of the adequacy of occupational health protection devices); the adequacy of inspections or surveys; and the health and well-being of the workers.

At Level 5-4, the purpose of the work is to provide expertise as a specialist in the broad practice of industrial hygiene, or in a specialty area of industrial hygiene, by furnishing advisory, planning, or reviewing services on specific problems, projects, or programs, and operating conditions directly affecting worker health and safety.  The work may include the development of criteria, procedures, or instructions for major agency activities, or the investigations, analysis, and evaluation of complex problems and situations.  Work products or decisions affect a wide range of the agency’s occupational health and safety programs, or major activities of industrial concerns.  For example, decisions involve more than the removal of the hazardous situation alone.  They affect complex work processes which may adversely affect productivity patterns, financial posture, and competitive industrial relationships, requiring delicate balances in professional judgments and conclusions.

The appellant’s position meets Level 5-3.  As at this level, the purpose of his position is to manage the GEMS program for the HCS’s main hospital and clinics, analyzing and investigating a variety of healthcare operations to determine the presence and severity of environmental and other safety hazards, their impact on the environment, and to recommend means for their control.  Similar to Level 5-3, the appellant’s recommendations and decisions impact the environmental safety and health of staff, patients, and visitors to the HCS; the quality of surveys and inspections conducted; and the adequacy of methods and techniques applied to control or eliminate hazards.

The appellant’s position does not meet Level 5-4 which involves providing regular and recurring expertise as a specialist in the broad practice of industrial hygiene, or in a specialty area of industrial hygiene, by furnishing advisory, planning, or reviewing services on specific programs, projects, or programs, in addition to operating conditions directly affecting worker health and safety.  His HCS organization is not assigned responsibility for developing criteria, procedures, or instructions for major VA activities as expected at Level 5-4.  As GEMS Coordinator, the appellant provides program-related guidance and oversight at the HCS.  As the primary purpose of his position is to manage an activity-level program the effect of which is local in nature, his work products and decisions do not affect a wide range of the agency’s occupational health and safety programs or major activities of industrial concerns as described at Level 5-4.

Level 5-3 is credited for 150 points.

Factor 8, Physical Demands

This factor covers the requirements and physical demands placed on the employee by the work assignment.

At Level 8-2, work includes frequent inspections or surveys of industrial workplaces, requiring the employee to carry a considerable amount of equipment, and involve a good deal of walking, standing, bending, and climbing.

At Level 8-3, work requires frequent and protracted periods of strenuous physical exertion such as long periods of climbing, crouching, or crawling in confined spaces or around and between operating equipment while carrying moderately heavy equipment (20 – 30 pounds or more) and while wearing protective clothing.

The appellant’s frequent inspections and surveys of the HCS worksites fully meet Level 8-2.  His work requires carrying a considerable amount of equipment and involves a good deal of walking, standing, bending, and climbing as expected at Level 8-2.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 8-3, stating in his appeal request to OPM:

 …the incumbent is largely responsible for the oversight and operation of the [HCS] hazardous waste programs.  As a result, the incumbent oversees and deals with hazardous wastes generated through a diverse array of activities, which includes clinical (pharmaceuticals, chemotherapy agents, radiological imaging solutions, dental amalgam, etc.), research laboratories (formalin, formaldehyde, etc.), clinical laboratory (GenXpert Cepheid cartridges, listed solvent waste, etc.), and facility maintenance/operations (used oils, used solvents, spill response materials, etc.).

The appellant’s work requires opening and inspecting contents of hazardous waste containers to ensure HCS organizations are complying with EPA and other hazardous waste regulations.  He also collects, handles, transports, and stores hazardous waste containers; for example, non-hazardous pharmaceutical wastes are stored in a 55-gallon polydrum at the hospital basement which he moves, by cart, a block away to the hazardous waste container storage area at the research laboratory complex.  The filled drum weighs approximately 250 pounds.  He also inspects a 30-gallon metal drum filled with hazardous waste solvents produced by the clinical laboratory.  The appellant’s work with hazardous materials and other duties require taking safety precautions such as wearing PPE (e.g., an apron, shoe covers, head cover, gloves, and face shields).  He must be in good physical condition to perform physically challenging work such as climbing into trash dumpsters to inspect contents for potential hazards, crawling through confined spaces, and moving pharmaceutical and other wastes as described above.  However, the appellant’s work does not meet Level 8-3 where duties require regular and prolonged periods of considerable and strenuous physical exertion.  His tasks require bursts of strength when lifting heavy objects, working in tight spaces, and climbing into dumpsters, but this and other work do not require sustaining strenuous physical exertion on a regular basis and for a protracted period of time as described at Level 8-3.  Such physically demanding tasks do not occur with sufficient frequency to control the evaluation of this factor for purposes of the position classification process.

Level 8-2 is credited for 20 points.

Factor 9, Work Environment

This factor considers the risks and discomforts in the employee’s physical surroundings or the nature of the work assigned and the safety regulations required.

At Level 9-2, there is regular exposure during inspections or surveys to all of the hazards and discomforts to which the workers are subjected, including a wide range of toxic chemicals, physical stresses, and safety hazards.  The employee must use a variety of protective equipment and clothing, such as respirators, ear plugs, gloves, coveralls, hard hats, etc.

At Level 9-3, work involves regular and recurring exposure to potentially dangerous or hazardous situations, such as working with explosives or incendiary materials; working at great heights under temperature extremes; or working around fatal viruses, areas devoid of oxygen, containing harmful bacteria, or emitting hydrogen sulfide.  A variety of health and safety precautions are necessary as two or more potentially hazardous conditions may occur simultaneously.

The appellant’s position fully meets Level 9-2, as he has regular and recurring exposure from routine inspections, surveys, and investigations to the full range of hazards and discomforts to which HCS employees are also subjected.  He deals with a wide range of toxic chemicals, physical stresses, and safety hazards.  Also at Level 9-2, he must regularly use a variety of PPE such as protective gloves, aprons, face shields, hard hats, safety shoes, and ear protectors.

The appellant seeks to credit his position at Level 9-3, stating in his appeal request to OPM that he “directly oversees and deals with hazardous wastes generated from a diverse array of processes and activities.”  For example, he states he regularly wears PPE to consolidate two hazardous waste solutions and triple-rinse containers weekly.  However, Level 9-3 is the highest level described by the PCS and thus reserved to positions faced with the highest exposure to dangerous or hazardous situations, often when two or more potentially hazardous situations occur at the same time.  The appellant’s HCS, as it is controlled to ensure the safety of all employees and visitors to the main hospital and clinics, does not involve the regular and recurring exposure to the extreme dangerous or hazardous situations equal to working with explosives or incendiary materials, working at great heights under temperature extremes, or similar situations where conditions cannot be controlled as expected at Level 9-3.

Level 9-2 is credited for 20 points.

Summary
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 2,570 points falls within the GS-11 range (2,355 to 2,750) on the grade conversion table in the PCS.

Decision

The appellant’s position is properly classified as Industrial Hygienist, GS-690-11.

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