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

Seyfarth Synopsis: As expected, OSHA has appealed an ALJ ruling that severely limits OSHA’s “controlling employer” enforcement policy. Acosta v. Hensel Phelps Constr. Co., No. 17-60543 (5th Cir. 8/4/17).

This case involves an unprotected excavation at a construction site that both parties agreed was in in violation of OSHA’s trenching standards.  The Respondent was the general contractor on the construction project with overall control and responsibility for the worksite.  The Respondent also had management employees on site who were present at the excavation who “could have easily” prevented the subcontractor’s employees from working in the unprotected excavation but did not do so.  However, the Respondent did not have any of its own employees who were exposed to the hazardous excavation.

OSHA cited Respondent as a “controlling employer” under OSHA’s multi-employer policy and longstanding Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission precedent that has held that “an employer who either creates or controls the cited hazard has a duty under § 5(a)(2) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. § 666(a)(2), to protect not only its own employees, but those of other employers ‘engaged in the common undertaking’.” McDevitt Street Bovis, Docket No. 97-1918 (Sept. 28, 2000).  “An employer may be held responsible for the violations of other employers ‘where it could reasonably be expected to prevent or detect and abate the violations due to its supervisory authority and control over the worksite.”’ Summit Contractors, Inc., Docket No. 05-0839 (Aug. 19, 2010).

Nonetheless, while the Commission has upheld “controlling employer” citations based on exposure to another employer’s employees, this violation occurred at a jobsite in Austin, Texas, which was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.  In 1981, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the OSH Act, its legislative history, and implemented regulations, serve to protect “an employer’s own employees from workplace hazards.”  ALJ’s emphasis.  Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 659 F.2d 706 (5th Cir. 1981).  Accordingly, rather than follow Commission precedent and uphold the citation, the ALJ found that “where it is highly probable that a Commission decision would be appealed to a particular circuit, the Commission has generally applied the precedent of that circuit in deciding the case – even though it may differ from the Commission’s precedent.” Kerns Bros. Tree Service, Docket No. 96-1719 (Mar. 16, 2000).  Therefore, the ALJ ruled that “applying 5th Circuit precedent, Respondent cannot be liable for a violation of the Act based solely upon a subcontractor’s employees’ exposure to the condition,”  and vacated the citation.

OSHA is appealing the ALJ’s decision to the 5th Circuit hoping that the 5th Circuit will reverse its 1981 holding in Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc.   This case represents a serious threat to OSHA’s multi-employer policy.  If upheld by the 5th Circuit, OSHA’s “controlling employer” policy may be in jeopardy. We will keep our readers apprised as this case develops.

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 and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has proposed to delay the reporting compliance deadline, until December 1, 2017,  for certain employers to electronically file injury and illness data.

Under OSHA’s revised recordkeeping rules certain employers are required to electronically file injury and illness data with OSHA.  As we noted previously in our blog, the rule became effective in January 1, 2017, and required employers to electronically file that information by July 1, 2017.  However, for months the regulated community had been asking how it would be expected to accomplish this electronic filing when OSHA had failed to set up a website capable of accepting the submissions.

In May 2017 OSHA acknowledged that “OSHA is not accepting electronic submission of injury and illness logs at this time and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information from their completed 2016 form 300A electronically.”

OSHA has now formally proposed to extend the filing deadline until December 1, 2017.  82 Fed. Reg. 29261 (June 28, 2017).  Importantly, OSHA states that the proposed delay will also allow OSHA an opportunity to “further review and consider the rule.”  Accordingly, it appears that OSHA is reconsidering the entire rule and may even modify or revoke the rule prior to the December 1, 2017 filing date.  OSHA stated that it intends to issue a separate proposal to reconsider, revise, or remove other provisions of the final rule on electronically filing injury and illness data.

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

By James L. Curtis

iStock_000004162096LargeSeyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has announced that it will be proposing a delay to the July 1, 2017 deadline for certain employers to electronically file injury and illness data.

Under OSHA’s revised recordkeeping rules certain employers are required to electronically file injury and illness data with OSHA.  As we noted previously in our blog, the rule became effective in January, 2017 and required employers to electronically file the information by July 1, 2017.  However, for months the regulated community has been asking how it is expected to accomplish this electronic filing when OSHA has failed to set up a website capable of accepting the submissions.

OSHA has now posted a notice on its website acknowledging that “OSHA is not accepting electronic submission of injury and illness logs at this time and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information from their completed 2016 form 300A electronically.”

It is unclear how long of a delay OSHA will seek and whether other modifications will be made that would impact the new anti-retaliation provisions.  We will keep readers posted.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the author, 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

iStock_000009254156LargeSeyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has rescinded its midnight rule, adopted by the outgoing Administration in December 2016 which attempted to end run the federal court’s decision in Volks that limits the statute of limitations on injury recordkeeping violations to six months.

Prior to 2012, OSHA’s longstanding position was that an employer’s duty to record an injury or illness continues for the full five-year record-retention period.  However, in 2012, the D.C. Circuit issued a decision, in AKM LLC v. Secretary of Labor, 675 F.3d 752 (DC Cir. 2012), rejecting OSHA’s position.

The AKM or “Volks” decision found that the standard six month statute limitations applies to an employer’s duty to record work related injuries and illnesses on the OSHA 300 log. The Volks decision effectively ended OSHA practice of issuing citations for alleged recordkeeping errors going back five years.  This decision did not sit well with OSHA.  In December, 2016 OSHA announced a new final rule that OSHA claimed “clarifies” an employer’s “continuing” obligation to make and maintain an accurate record of each recordable injury and illness for a full five years.

As we previously blogged, OSHA’s rule was a clear attempt to avoid the D.C. Circuit‘s ruling.  In response, Congress passed a Resolution to block OSHA’s rule, stating that “such rule shall have no force or effect.”  Agreeing with Congress, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy announcing that it “strongly supports” passage of the bill.

The December midnight rule has now been rescinded by OSHA, effectively acknowledging that the six month statute of limitations applies, not the five year statute of limitations.  82 Fed. Reg. 20548 (May 3, 2017).

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 Brent I. Clark and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000062437178MediumSeyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has just announced a three month delay of enforcement of the Crystalline Silica Standard for Construction under 29 CFR 1926.1153.

Crystalline silica is a staple of our modern society.  OSHA notes that it’s a common mineral that is found in many naturally occurring materials, and used in many industrial products and at construction sites.  Materials such as sand, concrete, stone and mortar contain crystalline silica. Crystalline silica is also used to make products like glass, pottery, ceramics, bricks, concrete and artificial stone.  Industrial sand is also used in certain foundry work and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations.  OSHA estimates that 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica on the job.

Because crystalline silica is so important to modern society, the OSHA silica standards rulemaking has been contentious.  We have blogged previously how OSHA Proposes Silica Worker Exposure Hazards Rule, OSHA Extends the Comment Deadline for Proposed Silica Worker Exposure Hazards Rule, New OSHA Hazard Safety Bulletin for the Hydraulic Fracturing Industries, and Senators Ask OSHA to Consider the Fracking Industry Economy and to More Fully Extend the Comment Deadline for Proposed Silica Worker Exposure Hazards Rule.

OSHA estimates that nearly 676,000 workplaces will be affected, including in construction and in general industry and maritime.  In addition, the rule is expected to result in annual costs of about $1,524 for the average workplace covered by the rule.  The total cost is estimated by OSHA at “just over $1 billion” (per year).

In an effort to remedy some of the issues and problems in compliance with the new rule, to provide OSHA with the opportunity to conduct additional outreach to the regulated community, and to provide additional time to train compliance officers, the Agency has decided to delay enforcement of the standard from June 23, 2017, until September 23, 2017.

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 Brent I. Clark, James L. CurtisAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

iStock_000004162096LargeSeyfarth Synopsis: A Texas federal court won’t decide the legality of OSHA’s rule regarding the “Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” until after the July 1, 2017 deadline for employers to comply with the rule.

A Texas federal court won’t decide the legality of OSHA’s rule regarding the Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses81 Fed. Reg. 29624 (May 12, 2016) until after the July 1, 2017 deadline for employers to comply with the rule, according to an April 3, 2017 judge’s order.  The order gives attorneys from the Department of Labor and several employer groups challenging the rule until July 5, 2017 to submit a proposed summary judgment briefing schedule (TEXO ABC/AGC v. Perez, N.D. Tex., No. 16-1998).

We had blogged previously about OSHA’s new rule on electronic reporting, drug-testing, retaliation claims, and safety incentive programs.  The TEXO lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment finding that the rule is unlawful to the extent that it prohibits or otherwise imposes limits on incident-based employer safety incentive programs and routine mandatory post-accident drug testing programs. The plaintiffs allege that the challenged provisions are unlawful and must be vacated because they exceed OSHA’s statutory authority, and because the “underlying findings and conclusions are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Business organizations and other industry groups have also sued OSHA in Oklahoma federal court to prevent the implementation of the 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).

While it remains to be seen how either of these legal challenges will fare, the business community has shown a willingness to strongly oppose this new rule — a rule that has been widely criticized as emblematic of regulatory overreach.  However, as the rule remains on the books, employers are required to comply with the July 1 electronic reporting deadline, or face the risk of citations and penalties.

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 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 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 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 Mark A. Lies, II, Brent I. Clark, James L. Curtis, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA finalizes rule that “more clearly states employers’ obligations” to record an injury or illness which continues for the full five-year record-retention period.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced last week a new final rule that “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.

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 six month statute limitations to an employers 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.

According to OSHA , this new final rule merely seeks to more clearly define employers’ obligations. “This rule simply returns us to the standard practice of the last 40 years,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. According to OSHA the amendments in the final rule add “no new compliance obligations and do not require employers to make records of any injuries or illnesses for which records are not already required.”

In reality, the new rule’s an obvious attempt to avoid the D.C. Circuit decision in Volks. It is important to note that OSHA waived its right to appeal the Volks decision to the Supreme Court at the time and thus cannot legally evade the legal precedent created by that decision.

It is important for employers to ensure that employees who are responsible for recording the company’s injuries and illnesses are well trained to correctly identify those items that need to be logged.

The effective date for the rule is January 18, 2017.

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.