OSHA recently surprised us with the announcement it had authority to increase penalties for the first time since 1990. Given this development, we expect OSHA to increase the maximum fine for serious citations to $12,500 and willful/repeat citations to $125,000 in August 2016. Additional increases reflecting inflation likely will follow on January 15 of each subsequent year.
We updated you about OSHA’s new Weighted Inspection Program in our October 3 post, “What’s the Real Effect of OSHA’s Revamped Inspection Process, the Enforcement Weighing System?” A Bloomberg BNA piece tonight summed up the processes’ effect:
The new measurement method—the “enforcement weighting system”—has replaced the OSHA practice of simply counting inspections and assigning each inspection the same degree of importance when measuring enforcement activities. The new system ranks inspections based on the time and resources needed to conduct evaluations, with complicated inspections receiving more points than those requiring no assistance from additional OSHA staff.
One of the fascinating things about an OSHA citation defense practice is the distinctions you see in prosecution by Federal OSHA versus state plans. It is very unusual in the legal world to have the same laws enforced by different governing bodies. OSHA litigation is just that.
OSHA’s new rule requiring that any work-related amputation, inpatient hospitalization, or loss of an eye be reported within 24 hours has resulted in a drastic increase in the number of inspections initiated as a result of employer referrals. More than a 15 percent increase in referral-based inspections has been seen in some states. In fact, over 5,000 employers nationwide have made reports under the new rule this year despite the fact that some state plans, such as Arizona, have not yet adopted the new regulation.
The tragedy this August that claimed the life of one worker and injured another during construction of the new $1.1B Minnesota Vikings football stadium reminded us that serious accidents can happen at any site no matter the size or cost. As an avid football fan and OSHA lawyer, and with football season just getting started, it also got me thinking about workplace safety issues occurring at professional football stadiums on Sunday afternoons.
On August 19, 2015, OSHA issued new policies and procedures (Compliance Directive: CPL 02-03-006) for applying a new process for resolving whistleblower disputes. This directive is OSHA’s attempt to institute an early resolution process. This process will be used in conjunction with a regional Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program, as part of OSHA’s overall enforcement of whistleblower statutes. The ADR programs offer whistleblower parties opportunities to negotiate settlements with the assistance of a neutral, confidential OSHA representative who has subject-matter expertise in whistleblower investigations. The Administrative Dispute Resolution Act of 1996 requires each federal agency to “adopt a policy that addresses the use of alternative means of dispute resolution and case management.”
OSHA recently reminded the Poultry Industry that it has not lost interest in a multiple front attack on processors, as shown by the almost $1,000,000 in citations issued against a Midwestern processor. You should view these startling OSHA citations as part of an overall DOL strategy involving bringing actions and encouraging employees to bring ergonomic, wage-hour and other claims.
On August 13, 2015, OSHA announced its updated National Emphasis Program (NEP) for Amputations will now include all industries that contain machinery or equipment which may cause amputations. Under the new National Emphasis Program, OSHA is using current enforcement data and statistics from the Bureau of Labor’s injury data report to assist with all site selection targeting.
Virginia prides itself on being a business friendly state, and its state OSHA plan is no exception. The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health compliance program (“VOSH”) should be commended for maintaining a robust safety record while keeping employer costs low. As great as VOSH is, it has its administrative quirks, which may catch the unwary employer or litigant off guard. A few of those quirks are discussed below.
I write a fair amount about employers’ duties to ensure that their workers classified as “temporary employees” be treated the same with regard to safety as their full time or so-called “permanent” employees. Hazards do not distinguish between an employee’s status. A fall hazard or unguarded chain will harm a temporary employee as much as it will harm a full time employee. Therefore, employers should involve these non-routine employees in the same safety meetings and training as full time employees. Temps should receive the same PPE as full time employees. If the temps are present long enough, they must participate in hearing protection and respiratory protection programs. This approach combines common sense, ethics and OSHA compliance.