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

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has recently issued a Frequently Asked Questions for General Industry for the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard. 

We had noted previously in the blog that most of the provisions of the Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard for General Industry and Maritime, 29 CFR § 1910.1053, became enforceable on June 23, 2018. The standard established a new 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 50 µg/m3, an action level (AL) of 25 µg/m3, and additional ancillary requirements.

OSHA has now published a FAQs document that provides discussion on the Scope and Application (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(a)), Definitions (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(b)), Exposure Assessments (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(d)), Regulated Areas (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(e)), Methods of Compliance (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(f)), Written Exposure Control Plan (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(f)(2)), Housekeeping (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(h)), Medical Surveillance (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(i)), Communication of Respirable Crystalline Silica Hazards to Employees (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(j)), Recordkeeping (29 C.F.R. § 1910.1053(k)), and Temporary Employees.

Details relating to the enactment and regulation under the standard have been captured in our previous blogs on the topic.  See for instance OSHA Enforcement Memo for Crystalline Silica Standard in General Industry and Maritime, OSHA Publishes Crystalline Silica Standards Rule Fact Sheets for Construction, Circuit Court Finds OSHA Failed to Adequately Explain the Crystalline Silica Standards Rule, and OSHA Publishes “Small Entity Compliance” Guides for the Crystalline Silica Standards.

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. CurtisBenjamin D. BriggsMatthew A. Sloan, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  OSHA has just been sued for removing the requirements for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) to OSHA each year.  These establishments will still be required to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses).

A coalition of groups including the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group (PCHRG), American Public Health Association, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  PCHRG v Acosta, No. 19-CV-166, (D. D.C. January 25, 2019).  The lawsuit challenges OSHA’s decision to amend a 2016 rule on the “Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” to remove the requirement that businesses with 250 or more workers electronically submit logs of each on-the-job injury or illness their workers sustain, although these employers must still keep such records on site.

We had recently blogged about OSHA’s just issued final rule (the Rollback Rule) to remove the requirements for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300 and OSHA Form 301 to OSHA each year.  Under the now amended rules these establishments will still be required to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A. 84 Fed. Reg. 380 (January 25, 2019).

The PCHRG suit claims that the Rollback Rule should be declared “unlawful and set aside because OSHA has failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its change in position, failed to adequately consider comments submitted in opposition to the change, and relied on considerations that have no sound basis in law.”  According to the lawsuit, “OSHA’s action, findings, and conclusions are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Under the current rules, the deadline for electronic submissions of the calendar year 2018 OSHA Form 300A information is March 2, 2019.

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

By James L. CurtisBenjamin D. Briggs, Brent I. ClarkAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  OSHA has just issued its final rule that removes the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) to OSHA each year.  These establishments will still be required to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). 84 Fed. Reg. 380 (January 25, 2019).

In May 2016, under the Obama Administration, the Department of Labor issued a final rule that would have required companies with 250 or more employees to electronically submit their OSHA 300, 301 and 300A forms annually. The information, which would contain summaries of employee names and injuries, would be maintained on government computer systems, but could be requested by third parties such as labor unions, special interest groups, or even competing companies who have an interest in such information.

In light of the legitimate worker privacy concerns, OSHA, under the Trump Administration, in July 2018, issued a proposed rule that would narrow the electronic disclosure rule.  However, some special interest groups, comprised of public-health advocacy groups, viewed the information contained in employers’ OSHA forms as a valuable source of workplace health data.  As such, these groups previously sued to reinstate the final rule that required employers to submit OSHA 300 and 301 forms electronically.  A federal court recently denied that request.

The court in Pub. Citizen Health Research Grp. v Acosta, No. 1:18-cv-01729, 2018 BL 459531 (D.D.C. Dec. 12, 2018), reasoned that the interest groups would have to show “irreparable harm” by not being able to access the OSHA forms to succeed in their lawsuit.  They were unable to show “irreparable harm” because OSHA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that narrows the electronic disclosure rule, but could change their mind and ultimately require employers to submit the forms electronically.  As such, the court reasoned, such groups could potentially obtain such information in the future.  Further, the court stated that OSHA’s delay in accepting the OSHA forms does not prevent the special interest groups from conducting the same type of workplace safety research independently.  Because they are not “irreparably” harmed by OSHA’s actions, the Court denied the relief they sought.

Revised Electronic Reporting Requirement

OSHA’s January 25, 2019 final rule limits the electronic submission requirement to the 300A summary for establishments who are required to keep OSHA records and with 250 or more employees.  Establishments with 20 or more (but fewer than 250) employees in certain specified industries (in Appendix A to the regulation) must also submit form 300As.

OSHA believes that this final rule will better protect personally identifiable information or data that may be re-identified with a particular worker by removing the requirement for employers with 250 of more employees to submit their information from Forms 300 and 301 electronically. The final rule does not alter an employer’s duty to maintain OSHA Forms 300 and 301 on-site, and OSHA will continue to obtain these forms as needed through inspections and enforcement actions.

We have blogged frequently on OSHA’s electronic reporting rule.  See California Enacts New Record-Keeping Mandates in Response to Changing Federal Program, Roller Coaster Rulemaking: OSHA Publishes Proposed Rule to Reduce Injury and Illness Electronic Reporting RequirementsOSHA Intends to “Reconsider, Revise, or Remove Portions” of Injury and Illness E-Reporting Rule Next YearOSHA Delays Electronic Filing Date for Injury and Illness Records Until December 1, 2017, and Despite Lawsuit, OSHA Publishes Interpretation for New Workplace Injury and Illness Reporting Rule.

The deadline for electronic submissions of the calendar year 2018 OSHA Form 300A information is March 2, 2019.

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

By James L. Curtis and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth SynopsisDue to Senate Rules, the Trump nomination of Scott A. Mugno, for the Assistant Secretary of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health, has now again been “returned” to the Senate for consideration.

Even though President Trump’s nomination of Scott Mugno to head OSHA was approved by Senate Committee on December 13, 2017, but it was not put to a full senate vote by the end of that year forcing a restart of the whole nomination procedure.  2018 did not prove any more fruitful for this nomination.  Accordingly, Mugno has again been nominated and so is now back before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for another vote recommending his appointment proceed to a full Senate vote.  No new date for a vote is currently set which will continue to delay the new administration’s safety and health policies.

For reference, a copy of Mugno’s December 5, 2017, written statement before the Senate Committee, is available for review.

We will continue to monitor the status of this nomination.

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, Benjamin D. Briggs, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The DOL has published its 2019 OSHA civil penalties.

We had blogged previously about the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) 2018 adjustments to the maximum civil penalty dollar amounts for OSHA violations. The DOL has now finalized the 2019 inflation adjustments which again nudges the penalties even higher.  84 Fed. Reg. 213 (Jan. 23, 2019).

Under the 2019 rule, the maximum OSHA civil penalties will be:

2018 Penalties

2019 Penalties
Other than Serious violations: $12,675 $13,260
Serious violations: $12,675 $13,260
Repeat violations: $126,749 $132,598
Willful violations: $126,749 $132,598
Failure to abate (per day): $12,675 $13,260

The new OSHA penalty amounts are applicable to OSHA citations issued after January 23, 2019, 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 Andrew H. Perellis, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  In another business-friendly move, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently updated its Justice Manual to clarify that it “should not treat a party’s noncompliance with a guidance document as itself a violation of applicable statutes or regulations [or to] establish a violation by reference to statutes and regulations.”

We had blogged in early 2018 regarding Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand’s memorandum “Limiting Use of Agency Guidance Documents In Affirmative Civil Enforcement Cases.” (Brand Memo), which indicated that the Department would no longer prosecute cases based solely on violations of various agencies’ “guidance documents”.  Now DOJ has taken it a step further by adding a section to its Justice Manual (Manual) titled: “Limitation on Use of Guidance Documents in Litigation..”  The new section was effective in December 2018.

Under the updated Manual, DOJ (which effectively acts as “outside counsel” to departments and agencies including the DOL, EPA, OSHA, ATF and DEA, among others, in cases exceeding certain penalty thresholds and other criteria) may no longer prosecute cases against alleged violators unless the violations are of properly promulgated (through “notice and comment” rulemaking) regulatory requirements, not agency guidance documents or policies.

The Brand Memo itself was a follow-up to an earlier memo issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on November 16, 2017 (Sessions Memo), which instituted a new policy that prohibits the Department of Justice from using its civil enforcement authority to convert agency guidance documents into binding rules. The Sessions Memo “prevent[ed] the Department of Justice from evading required rulemaking processes by using guidance memos to create de facto regulations. In the past, the Department of Justice and other agencies had blurred the distinction between regulations and guidance documents.”

Under the DOJ’s new policy, DOJ civil litigators are “prohibited from using guidance documents—or noncompliance with guidance documents—to establish violations of law in affirmative civil enforcement actions.”  The Brand Memo also indicates that “the [Sessions Memo]. . . prohibits the Department from using its guidance documents to coerce regulated parties into taking any action or refraining from taking any action beyond what is required by the terms of the applicable statute or lawful regulation.”  Finally, the Brand Memo confirms that the DOJ “…should not treat a party’s noncompliance with an agency guidance document as presumptively or conclusively establishing that the party violated the applicable statute or regulation.”

While the Brand Memo applied only to affirmative civil enforcement actions brought by the DOJ, we see the updated Manual, Sessions Memo and the Brand Memo as welcome relief from arbitrary use of guidance by departments and agencies such as the DOL, OSHA, or EPA in enforcement proceedings of regulated industry.

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

By Frederick T. Smith and Adam R. Young

Seyfarth Synopsis:  On January 10, 2019 Seyfarth Shaw LLP’s Labor & Employment and Workplace Safety and Health Teams will present a webinar on OSHA’s New Standard Interpretation clarifying the requirements on workplace drug testing.

In 2016, federal OSHA called into question many common workplace drug testing policies that contained post-accident testing provisions, characterizing them as a form of unlawful retaliation. Now, however, a recent OSHA Standard Interpretation has clarified the final rule and expressly permitted a range of drug testing policies and practices.

During this webinar we will discuss OSHA’s clarified position and various drug testing laws and provide practical advice for employers with regard to:

  • Post-accident/incident drug testing;
  • Random drug testing; and
  • Drug testing required by federal DOT agencies

The OSHA Standard Interpretation also abruptly reversed course on safety incentive programs, which we will also review.  As time allows, we will also provide a brief update on recreational and medical marijuana laws and related trends.

While there is no cost to attend, registration is required.  If you have any questions, please contact Cassie Peterson at clpeterson@seyfarth.com and reference this event.

By Andrew H. PerellisPatrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army (Corps) have recently proposed a “clear, understandable, and implementable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ [(WOTUS)] that clarifies federal authority under the Clean Water Act.”

Concerning the new draft proposed rule, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler tweeted out that “our redefinition of the Waters of the US proposal would replace the Obama 2015 definition with one that respects the limits of the Clean Water Act and provides states and landowners certainty so they can manage their natural resources & grow local economies.”  84 Fed. Reg. 4154 (February 14, 2019).  The EPA noted that unlike the Obama administration’s 2015 definition of WOTUS, the new proposal contains a “straightforward definition that would result in significant cost savings, protect the nation’s navigable waters, help sustain economic growth, and reduce barriers to business development.”

This proposal, the Agencies assert, is the second step in the two-step process to review and revise the definition of WOTUS consistent with President Trump’s February 2017 Executive Order entitled “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.

The proposed rule is intended to provide clarity, predictability and consistency so that the regulated community can easily understand where the Clean Water Act applies—and where it does not.  The practical effect of the proposal is to remove from Federal authority “waters” that are not directly adjacent to a river, stream or lake that is traditionally understood as under the jurisdiction of the CWA.  The proposal rejects the “substantial nexus” approach that resulted from Justice Kennedy’s concurrence in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006).  As a result, many wetlands or ephemeral streams, although hydrologically connected to a traditional CWA-regulated water, would no longer be regulated.

Under the proposal, traditional navigable waters, tributaries to those waters, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments of jurisdictional waters, and wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters would be federally regulated.  The proposal also details what are not WOTUS, such as “features that only contain water during or in response to rainfall (e.g., ephemeral features); groundwater; many ditches, including most roadside or farm ditches; prior converted cropland; storm water control features; and waste treatment systems.”

Here is an Agency graphical depiction of the rule provisions:

EPA Twitter image post, December 12, 2018.

The Agencies had received written pre-proposal recommendations and received more than 6,000 recommendations that were considered in developing the proposal.  Public comments on the proposal will be accepted for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.  EPA and the Corps intend to also hold an informational webcast on January 10, 2019, and will host a listening session on the proposed rule in Kansas City, KS, on January 23, 2019.

Our prior blogs provide more detail regarding the definition of WOTUS.  See for instance EPA and Army Corps of Engineers Propose to Rescind Obama Era Rule Redefining “Waters of the United States”EPA Publishes Final Rule Expanding Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water ActProposed Rule on Definition of “Waters of the United States” Under the Clean Water Act, and New Definition of “Waters of the United States”?.

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, Patrick D. Joyce, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to reconsider a key precedent of administrative law that tells judges to defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own ambiguous regulation, taking up a challenge to the so-called “Auer” or “Seminole Rock” deference.  The Auer deference has been criticized by conservative justices on the court. Kisor v. Sectretary of Veterans Affairs, No. 18-15 (US Dec. 10, 2018).

The specific question being considered is whether the Court should overrule Auer and Seminole Rock. In context, the specific question being considered is: what deference, if any, should courts give to an agency interpretation of its own regulation that has not gone through Administrative Procedure Act (APA) notice and comment rulemaking?

Historically, courts have struggled with the extent of deference to give an agency’s interpretations of its own regulations. Under the APA § 553(b)(A), agency interpretive rules and general statements of policy are exempt from notice and comment rulemaking because interpretative rules are non-substantive, and the APA only requires substantive interpretations, having the force of law, to go through notice and comment rulemaking. However, the “Auer doctrine,” from Auer v. Robbins, 519 U.S. 452, 117 S.Ct. 905 (1997), accords substantial deference to an Agency’s allegedly non-substantive interpretation of its own regulations, even if presented in an unofficial manner such as in an amicus brief.

We have blogged frequently on Auer deference and its impact on case law, precedent, and regulatory and agency authority — and ultimately on business and employers. These cases run the scope of topical law and issues. See for instance Ninth Circuit Issues En Banc Decision Upholding DOL’s 20% Tip Credit Rule; Ball is Now in DOL’s Court, Supreme Court to Rule on Case Addressing Bathroom Access Based on Gender Identity, Fourth Circuit Holds that “Sex” Under Title IX Incorporates Gender Identity, Texas District Court Enjoins Federal Gender Identity Protection Of Students, Judicial Deference to Informal Agency Interpretations: Could this be the Beginning of the End for Auer?, and Eighth Circuit Rejects OSHA’s Attempt to Expand the Scope of its Machine Guarding Standard.

In in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), 575 U.S. ____, 135 S.Ct. 1199 (2015), Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas expressed their discontent with agency deference under the “Auer doctrine.”

In his analysis, Justice Scalia cited to § 556 of the APA for the proposition that only the courts may interpret agency actions, not the agencies themselves. Justice Scalia opined that the purpose of the § 553(b)(A) exemption was to allow agencies to advise the public on the impact of a complex regulation without binding the public to that interpretation.

However, Justice Scalia believed Auer deference acts to allow agencies to both advise and bind the public because the agency can draft the regulation to be broad and vague and then interpret it in a manner that would not have been evident to the public when the regulation was originally proposed for notice and comment. Further, under Auer, a reviewing court is beholden to an agency interpretation unless its interpretation is unreasonable, and the public is thus bound by the agency’s interpretation with the force of law. Justice Scalia called for abandoning Auer in a future decision, when the question was properly before the Court.

Justice Scalia distinguished Auer deference and deference to an agency’s interpretation of its governing statute, also known as “Chevron deference,” from Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984). Under Chevron, if a statutory term is ambiguous, then the agency has authority to construe that term and interpret its meaning within the statutory scheme by promulgating regulations following APA notice and comment procedures. This is arguably permissible because Congress explicitly granted agencies the ability to interpret their governing statutes, and APA rulemaking procedures are followed in establishing the interpretation via regulations. Justice Scalia pointed out that Auer is unlike Chevron because, under the Auer doctrine, an agency does not use APA notice and comment procedures and Congress has not explicitly granted agencies the ability to interpret their regulations. This difference was enough for Justice Scalia to call for the end of Auer.

Justice Thomas takes a different route when calling Auer into question, looking instead to the separation of powers and checks and balances put in place by the U.S. Constitution. In his concurrence in MBA, Justice Thomas referred to the cases dealing with deference to agency interpretations of regulations, beginning with Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U.S. 410, 65 S.Ct. 1215 (1945), and calls into question the constitutionality of the entire line of cases, including Auer.

Justice Thomas believed that any deference to administrative interpretations of regulations constitutes a transfer of judicial power to the executive, contrary to the language of the Constitution. Because Seminole Rock and Auer erode the judicial obligation to serve as a check on the other branches and muddle the separation between the Judicial and the Executive Branches, Justice Thomas called for reconsideration of the entire Seminole Rock line of cases, including Auer, at the appropriate moment.

In addition, in a joint concurrence to a prior case, Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, 568 U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1326 (2013), Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito indicated that reconsideration of Auer may be appropriate when the issue is properly before the Court. The issue of Auer deference was not before the Court in MBA or Decker, but with at least four Justices questioning the continued validity of the doctrine, it is possible the question of judicial deference to agency interpretive rules will be reconsidered under in Kisor.

Such a reconsideration of Auer would have significant impact upon administrative law. Judicial review of agency action provides important protection against arbitrary or unfair agency action. However, that review is significantly restricted under Auer¸ because a court must defer to an agency interpretation simply because it is issued by the agency, with little check on the reasonableness of the interpretation. Allowing courts to consider but not defer to agency interpretations would compel agencies to be more exacting (and perhaps more forthcoming) when engaging in rulemaking and interpreting regulations. Rulemaking, while perhaps a tedious process for the agency, required notice to the public, an opportunity for the public to comment, and an opportunity for judicial review, all to ensure that the agency action is consistent with law and not arbitrary or capricious.

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 or Workplace Safety and Health (OSHA/MSHA) Teams.

By Brent I. Clark, Mark A. Lies, IIAdam R. YoungDaniel R. Birnbaum, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  OSHA has recently released its National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation, CPL 02-00-161 (October 1, 2018), which requires OSHA to open inspections against any contractor involved in trenching or excavation work and report information back to the Area Office and national online system.

OSHA has long maintained construction standards related to trenching and excavation safety, including 1926.650 (Scope, application, and definitions applicable to this subpart), 1926.651 (Specific Excavation Requirements), and 1926.652 (Requirements for protective systems).  In 2017, the regulation governing cave in protection (1910.655(a)(1)) alone was cited against more than 500 employers.  On top of OSHA citations, trenching and excavation fatalities have been a source of criminal prosecution by federal and state authorities.  To effectuate enforcement of this hazard, OSHA has released a new National Emphasis Program, replacing OSHA’s earlier Special Emphasis: Trenching and Excavation, CPL 02-00-069 (September 19, 1985).

In its news release on the Directive, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Loren Sweatt said “removing workers from and helping workers identify trenching hazards is critical….  OSHA will concentrate the full force of enforcement and compliance assistance resources to help ensure that employers are addressing these serious hazards.”  The NEP indicates that according to Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) data, there were 130 fatalities recorded in trenching and excavation operations between 2011 and 2016.  Private construction industry accounted for eighty percent, or 104, of those fatalities.  OSHA noted that it has a series of compliance assistance resources to help keep workers safe from trenching and excavation hazards.  The trenching and excavation webpage provides information on trenching hazards and solutions.

The 2018 NEP mandates that the Area Offices, beginning on October 1, 2018 roll out the Program with a “three-month period of education and prevention outreach.” During that period, OSHA will continue to respond to complaints, referrals, hospitalizations, and fatalities.

“Enforcement activities will begin after the outreach period and remain in effect until canceled.”  The NEP mandates intense new scrutiny of trenching and excavation operations.  The Program requires compliance officers (CSHOs) to initiate an inspection any time they observe a trench or excavation, whether observed during an inspection or merely in the course of their workday travel.  Accordingly, employing its Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine, OSHA will be required to record and open an inspection against each employer who may have OSHA liability over trenching and excavation operations, including general contractors, subcontractors, and independent contractors.  Compliance officers must also promptly notify their Area Office of the trenching operation, state of the excavation, and any contractors involved.  They also must take photographs to document the worksite.

All enforcement activities by compliance officers must be recorded in OSHA’s online information system (OIS), creating a searchable database of trenching and excavation information.

Accordingly, construction contractors conducting trenching and excavation operations will face a greatly increased chance of an OSHA inspection and regulatory scrutiny, especially those operations that are located on major thoroughfares and high-profile locations or in areas likely to be travelled by OSHA inspectors.  Employers should consult with safety professionals and outside counsel to ensure compliance with the relevant OSHA Standards.

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.