By Brent I. Clark and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000009254156LargeSeyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has recently “launched” a “Campaign for Safety & Health Programs,” that it indicates is an approach that has been proven by “best in class” employers to reduce injuries and illnesses and improve their businesses.

In a recent news release out of OSHA’s Region 7, it notes that OSHA’s national “Safe and Sound Campaign” will assist employers in keeping workplaces safe and healthy.  OSHA is highlighting both the launch of the “Safe and Sound Campaign” webpage, calling on employers to review their safety and health programs to protect workers, and reduce workplace injuries and deaths, and its “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs” webpage, that offers “practical advice on how any organization can integrate safety and health programs.”

OSHA claims that the safety and health program approach has been proven by “best in class” employers which have reduced injuries and illnesses and improved their businesses. To OSHA,  all effective safety and health programs have three core elements:

  • Management leadership. Top management commits to establishing, maintaining, and continually improving the program, and provides any necessary resources.
  • Worker participation. Effective programs involve workers in identifying solutions. Improved worker engagement is linked to better productivity, higher job satisfaction, and better worker retention.
  • A systematic find and fix approach. All effective programs are centered around a proactive process of finding and fixing hazards before they can cause injury or illness.

OSHA suggests that initiating a safety and health program doesn’t have to be complicated. “There are some simple, do-it-yourself steps to get started.”  OSHA suggests that employers learn more about how to integrate safety and health programs in their organizations by visiting the OSHA Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs webpage, and beginning program design and implementation there.

OSHA states that employers “will find that implementing these recommended practices also brings other benefits.” Safety and health programs help businesses:

  • Prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.
  • Improve compliance with laws and regulations.
  • Reduce costs, including significant reductions in workers’ compensation premiums.
  • Engage workers.
  • Enhance their social responsibility goals.
  • Increase productivity and enhance overall business operations.

In addition, Kim Stille, OSHA’s Regional Administrator in Kansas City, states that “with just a phone call, companies can contact OSHA for assistance in achieving safety compliance.  Working together with businesses, unions, and employees …. [to] implement and sustain workplace safety and health programs that can help employees avoid preventable injuries and deaths.”

From our view, it is interesting for OSHA to take a more cooperative approach to worker safety and health issues. Whether this news release and these associated webpages signal a change in the overall approach OSHA will take under President Trump’s new Administration is yet to be seen.  But this is not the tone we have seen from OSHA in the last several years.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.


By Lawrence Z. Lorber, Annette Tyman, Jaclyn W. Hamlin, and Brent I. Clark

BLACKLISTEDSeyfarth Synopsis: By a vote of 49-48 on March 6, 2017, by the U.S. Senate, both Houses of Congress have now moved to rescind the regulations issued pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order 13678, entitled Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces but popularly referred to as the “Blacklisting” Order, which required government contractors to report all potential labor violations as well as disclose the basis of pay to employees working on government contracts.  If President Trump signs the rescission resolution, as he is expected to do, the regulations will be rescinded. Under the Congressional Review Act, if a regulation is subject to rescission, the Executive Branch cannot reissue the same or similar regulation absent legislative authorization.

For our readers that are interested in occupational safety and health topics, we are blogging this link to our colleagues “One Minute Memo”, with this introductory note. OSHA citations are covered among the labor laws covered by Executive Order 13673 (Blacklisting Order). The way the Blacklisting Order read was that the covered violations included citations which were not final, which were being contested by the employer, and which may ultimately be withdrawn through settlement or by a Judge once  the employer had a chance to present its defense.  The Blacklisting Order was another example of the Obama Administration’s “guilty until proven innocent” approach to regulating businesses and employers.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OFCCP & Affirmative Action Compliance Team, the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team, or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.

By Brent I. ClarkJames L. Curtis, Benjamin D. Briggs, Mark A. Lies, II, and Craig B. Simonsen

Construction Inspector 4Seyfarth Synopsis: Congress passes a Resolution to dismantle an OSHA final rule, adopted in December 2016, which despite statutory language to the opposite, “more clearly states employers’ obligations” to record an injury or illness which continues for a full five-year record-retention period.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced in December 2016 a new final rule that OSHA claims “clarifies an employer’s continuing obligation to make and maintain an accurate record of each recordable injury and illness.” The rule had been proposed in July 2015. In response, the House of Representatives this week passed a Resolution to block the regulation, stating that “such rule shall have no force or effect.”

The bill, House Joint Resolution 83, passed by a vote of 231 to 191, will now move to the Senate for consideration. The White House had issued a Statement of Administration Policy announcing that it “strongly supports” passage of the bill.

In a statement, Rep. Byrne said: “OSHA’s power grab is not only unlawful, it does nothing to improve workplace safety. What it does do is force small businesses to confront even more unnecessary red tape and unjustified litigation. As Republicans have been saying for years, OSHA should collaborate with employers to prevent injuries and illnesses in workplaces and address any gaps in safety that might exist.”

OSHA’s longstanding position had been that an employer’s duty to record an injury or illness continues for the full five-year record-retention period. It cited to Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission cases dating back to 1993. In 2012, however, the D.C. Circuit issued a decision, in AKM LLC v. Secretary of Labor, __ F.3d ___, 2012 WL 1142273 (DC Cir., April 06, 2012), reversing the Commission and rejecting OSHA’s position on the continuing nature of its prior recordkeeping regulations.

The AKM or “Volks” decision applied the standard six month statute limitations to an employer’s duty to put work related injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 log. The D.C. Circuit decision affectively ended OSHA practices of issuing citations for alleged recordkeeping errors back five years.  OSHA did not appeal the Volks decision.  As we previously blogged, OSHA’s rulemaking was a clear attempt to avoid the D.C. Circuit of Appeals ruling.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Benjamin D. Briggs, James L. Curtis, and Craig B. Simonsen

Employee Rights Employment Equality Job Business Commuter ConcepSeyfarth Synopsis: In a victory for employers, a Texas federal court has refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging an OSHA interpretation under which non-employee union representatives were permitted to participate in OSHA inspections of non-union employers.

We blogged previously about OSHA’s 2013 standard interpretation guidance letter allowing workers in non-union workplaces to designate a union (or other) representative to act as a “walk-around representative” during OSHA compliance inspections.  At the time, we cautioned that an undesirable consequence of the interpretation was that it allowed outsiders with interests potentially contrary to the employer’s to influence the compliance inspection in an effort to generate union support amongst employees.  Since its issuance, OSHA has used the letter to force union participation in inspections of non-union workplaces over employer objections.

On February 3, 2017, a Texas federal judge put a serious dent in OSHA’s continued reliance on the interpretation in a ruling signaling victory to a rising chorus of objections from the business community.  The ruling came in case in which the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) challenged the validity of the interpretation on the following two bases: (1) the letter constitutes a rule subject to notice and comment rulemaking requirements; and (2) the interpretation exceeds OSHA’s authority.

OSHA responded to the suit by filing a motion to dismiss in which it raised a number of threshold arguments before attacking the substance of NFIB’s claims. The court flatly rejected OSHA’s threshold arguments and then sided with NFIB’s argument that the letter was a legislative rule subject to notice and comment rulemaking, not “interpretive guidance” as OSHA contended.  In reaching this conclusion, the court observed that the letter “flatly contradicts a prior legislative rule as to whether the employee representative must himself be an employee,” and, in turn, should have gone through the formal rulemaking process.

The Upshot for Employers

While the court’s ruling does not conclude the litigation, it sends a very clear message about how the dispute will likely end in the event OSHA continues to defend its position regarding the letter. Moreover, with a new administration committed to reducing agency overreach and armed with the ability to simply withdraw the letter, it appears the continued viability of the interpretation is very much in doubt.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By James L. Curtis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The DOL has published its 2017 OSHA civil penalties.

We had blogged previously about the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2016 adjustments to the maximum civil penalty dollar amounts for OSHA violations. The DOL has now finalized the 2017 inflation adjustments which will nudge the penalties even higher.  92 Fed. Reg. 5373 (Jan. 19, 2017).

Under the 2017 rule, the maximum OSHA civil penalties will be:

                                                                2016 Penalties            2017 Penalties

  • Other than Serious violations:             $12,471                       $12,675
  • Serious violations:                               $12, 471                      $12,675
  • Repeat violations:                               $124,709                     $126,749
  • Willful violations:                               $124,709                     $126,749
  • Failure to abate (per day):                   $12, 471                      $12,675

The new OSHA penalty amounts are applicable to OSHA citations issued after January 13, 2017, whose associated violations occurred within the six month statute of limitations

Going forward, DOL is required to adjust maximum OSHA penalties for inflation by January 15 of each new year.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Adam R. Young and Craig B. Simonsen

shutterstock_144257470Seyfarth Synopsis: The Affordable Care Act faces an uncertain future under the Trump administration, which will affect whistleblower provisions enforced by OSHA.

In October 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration published a final rule that established procedures and time frames for handling whistleblower complaints under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare. 81 Fed. Reg. 70607 (October 13, 2016).

In its news alert, OSHA explains that Section 1558 of the ACA gives employees a cause of action based on any adverse employment action in retaliation for receiving marketplace financial assistance when purchasing health insurance through an Exchange. It also protects employees’ right to raise concerns about employers’ conduct that they believe violates the consumer protections and health insurance reforms in Title I of the ACA.

Concerning the rules, Dr. David Michaels, the then OSHA Administrator, said “this rule reinforces OSHA’s commitment to protect workers who raise concerns about potential violations of the consumer protections established by the Affordable Care Act or who purchase health insurance through an Exchange.”

The new rule established procedures and time frames for (1) hearings before Department of Labor administrative law judges in ACA retaliation cases; (2) review of those decisions by the Department of Labor Administrative Review Board; and (3) judicial review of final decisions.

In 2013, OSHA had sought public comments on an interim final rule. The Preamble to the final rule responds to those public comments and updates the rule to “clarify the protections for workers who receive financial assistance when they purchase health insurance through an Exchange.”

OSHA’s Affordable Care Act fact sheet is intended to provide more information regarding who is covered under the ACA’s whistleblower protections, define what is protected activity, list types of retaliation, and explains the process for filing a complaint.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the ACA under the Trump administration. If Congress repeals the ACA, this will necessarily include all related whistleblower provisions enforced by OSHA.  Employers should stay attuned to developments in new health care legislation.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Whistleblower Team or the Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Team.

By Brent I. Clark, James L. Curtis, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Employers that are regulated under any of the 22 federal whistleblower protection laws are encouraged to review company policies, procedures, and training systems to examine conformity with this guidance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has just issued its Recommended Practices for Anti-Retaliation Programs to help guide employers in creating “workplaces in which workers feel comfortable voicing their concerns without fear of retaliation.” The recommendations will apply to all public and private sector employers covered under the 22 whistleblower protection laws that OSHA enforces.

The Recommended Practices outline five elements that OSHA believes make up an effective anti-retaliation program, including:

  1. Management leadership, commitment, and accountability.
  2. System for listening to and resolving employees’ safety and compliance concerns.
  3. System for receiving and responding to reports of retaliation.
  4. Anti-retaliation training for employees and managers.
  5. Program oversight.

OSHA’s twelve page Recommended Practices provide some discussion on each of these “key elements.” Jordan Barab, OSHA acting Director, said that “these recommended practices will provide companies with the tools to create a robust anti-retaliation program.”

OSHA had published an initial draft of the Recommended Practices for review and comment in the November 2015. Differences from the proposal may be reviewed in OSHA’s Response to Public Comments.

Employers that are regulated under any of the 22 federal whistleblower protection laws are encouraged to review closely company policies, procedures, and training systems to examine conformity with this guidance. We note that their Recommended Practices tie into OSHA’s Amended Injury and Illness Standards form 2016. We expect OSHA inspectors to begin including these issues in their inspections.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

By Benjamin D. Briggs, Brent I. Clark, Mark A. Lies, II, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Construction Inspector 4Seyfarth Synopsis: Business organizations have once again brought suit against OSHA’s new electronic reporting and retaliation rule, arguing that the proposed online database violates employers’ First and Fifth Amendment rights and oversteps OSHA’s authority.

The National Association of Home Builders of the United States, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other industry groups have sued Occupational Safety and Health Administration to prevent the implementation of its OSHA’s new injury and illness electronic reporting rule, arguing that OSHA’s proposed online database violates employers’ First and Fifth Amendment rights, is arbitrary, capricious, and otherwise contrary to law, and oversteps OSHA’s authority.  National Association of Home Builders of the United States et al. v. Perez et al., No. 5:17-cv-00009 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 4, 2017).

With regard to the new injury and illness reporting requirements, the industry groups’ Complaint alleges that OSHA “lacks statutory authority to create an online database meant for the public dissemination of employers’ injury and illness records.” In the Preamble to the Final Rule, OSHA premised its authority to issue the Rule on Sections 8 and 24 of the OSH Act. But neither of those sections authorizes OSHA to publicly disseminate reports collected under the Rule. The Plaintiffs contend that the Rule is arbitrary and capricious because OSHA has “changed its position on the confidentiality of the information it is demanding companies produce, without providing a reasoned explanation for that change.”  Moreover, Plaintiffs contend that the new Rule violates the employers’ First and Fifth Amendments rights by compelling them to submit confidential and proprietary information for publication on a publicly available online database.

The Complaint also takes aim at the new rule’s anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provision. To that end, the Complaint alleges that because the Final Rule created a new scheme to prohibit discrimination and retaliation against employees, OSHA exceeded its statutory authority.  Specifically, the Agency “contravene[d] the express and sole statutory scheme established by Congress in Section 11(c) of the OSH Act to provide redress for retaliatory actions by employers against employees.”

We had previously blogged about the substance of OSHA’s new rule as it applies to drug-testing, retaliation claims, and accident reporting. In immediate response to the new rule, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and others brought a suit to enjoin the rule, arguing that OSHA’s new rule went too far. TEXO ABC/AGC, et al. v. Thomas, et al., No. 3:16-CV-1998 (N.D. Tex. July 8, 2016). Despite the pending lawsuit, OSHA has issued an interpretative guidance on the new rule, and the rule went into effect as planned on December 1, 2016.

The TEXO ABC Court’s decision denied the Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The Court concluded that the Plaintiffs had not met their burden of establishing that they were likely to suffer irreparable harm. Slip Op. 7.  The TEXO ABC preliminary injunction denial, though, was not on the merits of the case. However, it is unclear whether the TEXO ABC Plaintiffs will continue to pursue that litigation given the Court’s denial of the preliminary injunction.

While it remains to be seen how these challenges will fare, the business community has shown a willingness to strongly oppose the new rule — a rule that has been widely criticized as emblematic of regulatory overreach.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the OSHA Compliance, Enforcement & Litigation Team.

By Patrick D. Joyce, Jeryl L. Olson, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000011623330_MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: In a significant proposal, EPA moves to ban the use of TCE in aerosol degreasing and spot cleaning at dry cleaning facilities, as part of a larger effort to ban TCE in other industrial uses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to ban certain uses of Trichloroethylene (TCE) – one of the most commonly used solvents – because of alleged health risks from its use as an aerosol degreaser and for spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities. 91 Fed. Reg. 91592 (Dec. 16, 2016). The proposed rule was issued under the recently-amended Section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

This is a significant and controversial step. Not only is this EPA’s first use of Section 6(a) in 25 years, it is EPA’s first use of the “new” Section 6(a), which was revised in June 2016. In addition to the current proposed ban, EPA has indicated it intends to issue a proposal to ban TCE in vapor degreasing, and will publish one final rule banning TCE use in aerosol degreasing, spot cleaning at dry cleaning facilities, and vapor degreasing.

TCE is a volatile organic compound (VOC) that is both produced and imported into the United States, with use estimated to be around 250 million pounds per year. TCE is a clear, colorless liquid with a sweet odor and it evaporates quickly. TCE is used industrially as a solvent, a refrigerant, and in dry cleaning fluid. The majority of TCE is used (about 84 percent) in a closed system as an intermediate chemical for manufacturing refrigerant chemicals. Much of the remainder (about 15 percent) is used as a solvent for metals degreasing. Only a small percentage accounts for other uses, including use as a spotting agent in dry cleaning and in consumer products.

While the use of TCE in aerosol degreasing and spot dry cleaning constitute the least common use of the solvent in the United States, under this current proposal, EPA will prohibit the manufacture (including import), processing, and distribution in commerce of TCE for use these limited uses. However, EPA has indicated it is also developing a proposal to ban the use of TCE in other industries and in other operations with higher volume uses of the chemical (i.e., vapor degreasing). EPA’s final rule will includes the current proposed ban on aerosol use and spot cleaning in dry cleaning facilities, as well as the upcoming proposed ban on vapor degreasing.

The proposed ban on aerosol and dry cleaning uses includes requirements that manufacturers, processors, and distributors of TCE notify retailers and others in their supply chains of the prohibitions on use in aerosol degreasing and spot dry cleaning, and it is presumed the ban on vapor degreasing will have similar notification requirements.

Comments will be received on the proposed rule, Docket No. EPA–HQ–OPPT–2016–0163, until February 14, 2017.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.

By Andrew H. Perellis and Craig B. Simonsen

Dentist or dental officeSeyfarth Synopsis: In another rule aimed at small business, the EPA has just issued a rule for Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Dental Category. The rule will add more federal compliance costs to already tight dental office budgets.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued last week its pretreatment standards to reduce discharges of mercury from dental offices into publicly owned treatment works (POTWs).  We had blogged previously when the rules were proposed in October 2014.

Dental offices discharge mercury present in amalgam used for fillings. According to the Agency, “amalgam separators are a practical, affordable and readily available technology for capturing mercury and other metals before they are discharged into sewers that drain to POTWs.” EPA anticipates that once captured by a separator, mercury may be recycled.

Approximately fifty percent of dental amalgam is elemental mercury by weight. Dental amalgam is a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. It has been used for more than 150 years in hundreds of millions of patients. EPA expects compliance with this final rule will annually reduce the discharge of mercury by 5.1 tons as well as 5.3 tons of other metals found in waste dental amalgam to POTWs.

EPA indicated that the rule will apply to offices, including large institutions such as dental schools and clinics, where dentistry is practiced that discharge to a POTW. “It does not apply to mobile units or offices where the practice of dentistry consists only of the following dental specialties: oral pathology, oral and maxillofacial radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, periodontics, or prosthodontics.”

The final rule purports to ease administrative burdens from those initially proposed. “Administrative burden was a concern of many of the commenters on the 2014 proposed rule and EPA has greatly reduced that burden through streamlining the administrative requirements in this final rule.” The Agency claims that to simplify implementation and compliance for the dental offices and the regulating authorities, the final rule establishes that dental dischargers are not Significant Industrial Users (SIUs) as defined in 40 CFR part 403, and are not Categorical Industrial Users (CIUs) or “industrial users subject to categorical pretreatment standards” as those terms and variations are used in the General Pretreatment Regulations, unless designated such by the Control Authority.

“While this rule establishes pretreatment standards that require dental offices to reduce dental amalgam discharges, the rule does not require Control Authorities to implement the traditional suite of oversight requirements in the General Pretreatment Regulations that become applicable upon the promulgation of categorical pretreatment standards for an industrial category.” This, the EPA asserts, will significantly reduce the reporting requirements for dental dischargers that would otherwise apply by instead requiring them to demonstrate compliance with the performance standard and BMPs through a one-time compliance report to their Control Authority.

The approach will also eliminate additional oversight requirements for Control Authorities that are typically associated with SIUs, such as permitting and annual inspections of individual dental offices. “It also eliminates additional reporting requirements for the Control Authorities typically associated with CIUs, such as identification of CIUs in their annual pretreatment reports.”

In its proposal EPA estimated that there approximately 160,000 dentists working in over 120,000 dental offices who use or remove amalgam in the United States – “almost all of whom discharge their wastewater exclusively to POTWs.” According to the EPA news release at that time, “this is a common sense rule that calls for capturing mercury at a relatively low cost before it is dispersed into the POTW.”

Specifically the rule requires dentists to cut their dental amalgam discharges to a level achievable through the use of the “best available technology,” known as amalgam separators, and the use of other Best Management Practices. Amalgam separators are devices designed to remove amalgam waste particles from dental office wastewater.

In response to the proposed rule the American Dental Association said that it believes the “new federal regulation represents a fair and reasonable approach to the management of dental amalgam waste…. The rule includes reasonable exemptions, a phase-in period and considerations for dental practices that have already installed the devices.”

The compliance date for existing facilities is three years from the rule publication in the Feedral Register.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Seyfarth Environmental Compliance, Enforcement & Permitting Team.