By Brent I. Clark, James L. Curtis, Joshua M. Henderson, Patrick D. Joyce, and Daniel R. Birnbaum

Seyfarth Synopsis: Seyfarth Shaw’s OSHA/MSHA group is at the ABA’s Occupational Safety and Health Law Committee Midwinter Meeting this week.  On our last day, we heard remarks from a panel of ALJs who discussed the discovery process and trial best practices, a panel on safety programs in the 21st Century, and, a panel on updates on the construction industry.

We are attending the ABA Occupational Safety and Health Law Meeting this week in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Present are representatives from the OSH Review Commission, the MSH Review Commission, and the Solicitor’s Office.  Today is the last day of the meeting.

To open the final day, a panel consisting of the Honorable ALJs Phillips, Joys, and Augustine provided tips and tricks regarding pre-trial, trial, and post-trial conduct.  Especially relevant was Judge Phillips’ discussion of discovery best practices and recent ALJ discovery orders, including orders sanctioning parties for using boilerplate objections in their answers to discovery requests.  Judge Augustine discussed effective trial techniques that will provide the Judge with the best picture of the facts of the case.  Judge Augustine also indicated that effective cross examination and thoughtful use of information learned during depositions have the highest impact in his courtroom.  Judge Joys provided helpful tips regarding opening statements and effective written submissions, including pre- and post-trial briefing and proper citation to previous ALJ decisions.  All ALJs discussed the effectiveness of motions in limine and other pretrial motions.

The next panel discussed three significant recent decisions from the OSH Review commission that do not involve the general duty clause: Hensel Phelps Construction, Mar-Jac Poultry, and Triumph Construction.  Panelists included representatives from OSHA, management, and health and safety non-profits.  Hensel Phelps, a 5th Circuit decision issued in November 2018, overturned an OSH Review Commission decision regarding application of OSHA’s “multi-employer worksite” doctrine, which had relied upon a long-standing 1981 5th Circuit decision, Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, limiting OSH Act liability to “an employer’s own employees.”  Ultimately, the Court vacated Melerine, resulting in application of the multi-employer worksite doctrine in 5th Circuit jurisdictions.  The panel had widely varying views as to the overall impact of the Hensel Phelps decision, but there was consensus that this decision now brought the 5th Circuit in line with other Circuits that have addressed the multi-employer worksite doctrine.

Mar-Jac Poultry, an unpublished case decided in the 11th Circuit, places limitations on OSHA’s ability to expand its inspections beyond the initial reason for conducting the inspection.  Notably, the Court differentiated between a “hazard” and a “violation,” stating that the existence of a hazard does not establish the requisite probable cause of a violation necessary to obtain an administrative warrant that would allow OSHA to expand its inspection.  Again, the panel was divided as to the ultimate impact of the decision, with management applauding the decision’s discussion that the existence of an injury or hazard does not necessarily mean there is an associated violation of the OSH Act.

Triumph Construction, a February 2018 2nd Circuit decision, implicates OSHA’s ability to issue “repeat” violations to employers and the amount of time of the repeat “look-back” period.  Triumph had been cited for a repeat violation based upon a citation that had become a final order approximately five years prior.  At the time of the underlying citation in 2014, the 2009 version of OSHA’s Field Operations Manual (“FOM”) was still effective, and provided for a 3-year look-back period for repeat citations.  Triumph argued that the 3-year look-back period in the 2009 FOM was the limit and OSHA’s use of a 5-year look-back period was unfair.  Ultimately, the Court found that the OSH Act does not contain time limits on how far OSHA can look back to establish a repeat violation and also that the FOM does not create legal rights or duties.  The panel agreed that the impact of this decision is limited and fact-specific and simply applies the OSH Act as written.

Finally, the panel discussed several current cases that are expected to have a significant impact on recordkeeping, reporting, and agency deference.  Several cases challenging OSHA’s 2016 recordkeeping e-reporting rule are expected to be decided in 2019, including a case out of the Northern District of Texas and one out of the Western District of Oklahoma.  In addition, several current cases challenge OSHA’s decision to remove the requirement for employers to e-file their OSHA 300 Logs and 301, therefore limiting e-filings for all employers with greater than 20 employees to the OSHA 300A yearly summary.  The panel also discussed the United States Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Kisor v. Wilkie, which raises as its sole issue whether the Court should overturn the concept of “Auer” deference, which provides deference to an agency’s informal interpretation of its own regulation.  Many on the panel believed that the Court will in fact overturn or significantly limit Auer due to Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh having previously indicated a desire to remove or limit deference to agency interpretations.

Next, a panel discussed 21st Century updates to traditional health and safety programs.  The panel consisted of representatives from industry, safety consulting, labor, and OSHA.  OSHA reminded employers that it partners with states to provide consultation assistance to small businesses, providing assistance to employers covering approximately 1 million employees in 2018.  The labor representative discussed the use of metrics to prepare and implement effective safety programs.  A representative from industry discussed digital tools that they use to track leading and lagging indicators, allowing for real-time adjustments to safety programs and policies.  Use of these metrics has significantly reduced injuries and illnesses throughout their industry.

Finally, a panel of construction experts including OSHA’s acting director of the Directorate of Construction, an attorney representing management, and an attorney representing labor discussed updates in OSHA’s construction-related regulations, as well as trends in construction enforcement.  OSHA identified three major emphasis areas for 2019 including crane operator certification, trenching and excavation, and the continued implementation of the construction respirable silica rule.  Over 52% of OSHA inspections are conducted at construction worksites, the majority of them involving multi-employer worksites.  Fatalities from falls and trenching failures accounted for nearly 1/3 of construction-related fatalities in 2017.  Four of the top five regulations cited in 2018 involved working at heights or fall protection.  OSHA also reminded employers that the Subpart CC Crane Operator Certification requirements become effective in just over one month, on April 15, 2019.  The attorneys for management and labor disagreed as to the effectiveness of OSHA’s national emphasis programs (“NEP”), including its trench safety NEP.  Management expressed concern at uneven enforcement of trenching regulations while labor expressed approval for the requirements set forth by the NEP.  Finally, the panel discussed implementation of the construction crystalline silica regulation, challenges associated with compliance and enforcement, and lessons learned from the earlier-implemented general industry silica standard.

It has been a great conference, with many significant panels discussing relevant issues and concerns of OSHA, industry, and employees.  We look forward to another year of assisting you and are excited for what is to come.

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. Curtis, Joshua M. Henderson, Patrick D. Joyce, and Daniel R. Birnbaum

Seyfarth Synopsis: Seyfarth Shaw’s OSHA/MSHA group is at the ABA’s Occupational Safety and Health Law Committee Midwinter Meeting this week.  Today we heard remarks from a panel who discussed the general duty clause at length, a panel on safety concerns during emergency response, a panel that discussed the interplay between workers’ compensation, reportability, and recordability, and a panel on issues arising from OSHA inspections.

We are attending the ABA Occupational Safety and Health Law Meeting this week in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Present are representatives from the OSH Review Commission, the MSH Review Commission, and the Solicitor’s Office.

Continuing on the themes from yesterday’s conference meetings, a panel discussed at length OSHA’s aggressive enforcement of workplace safety issues through the general duty clause as well as recent OSH Review Commission case law questioning OSHA’s broad interpretation of its powers under the general duty clause.

The panel, which consisted of a management, union, and government representatives, emphasized the ideological differences between employers and the government when it comes to 5(a)(1) citations.  Panelists who represented the government and unions insisted that the purpose of the general duty clause is to fill the gaps when a specific standard does not exist.  The management panel, however, stressed that the general duty clause should be used to address unique, specific hazards.  More importantly, the general duty clause should not be used as a replacement for rulemaking of specific standards.

Speaking on recent general duty cases that concerned heat-illness, workplace violence, and grease fires at a restaurant, the panelists discussed common themes.  The management representative stressed that employers must be provided with appropriate notice of what OSHA may consider to be proper abatement.  Specifically, if an abatement method may be inadequate, OSHA should notify the employer of the fact before an accident, rather than afterwards.  The panelist reminded the audience, which included OSHA representatives and Review Commission judges, that the purpose of the general duty clause is to prevent an injury from occurring, rather than punish an employer after an accident occurs.  As such, when one aberrational situation occurs, the employer should not be punished for an abatement method that was otherwise effective in practice.

The government and union representatives strongly disagreed, noting their stated position that an accident does not have to occur for a violation to exist.  Further, when employers implement abatement methods to address issues such as heat-illness or workplace violence, this is evidence that the employer has notice of a hazard and needs to make sure its abatement efforts are effective.

Ultimately, the panel was a microcosm of the attitudes held by employers and the government across the country, and reflected the ongoing ideological differences in interpreting and enforcing the general duty clause between management and OSHA.

We also heard from a panel on the role of safety in emergency response, which included the division counsel from Puerto Rico OSHA, who discussed his personal experience with Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  The Puerto Rican panelist noted that when disaster strikes, it becomes increasingly difficult to reestablish working conditions without creating some workplace risk.  OSHA representatives noted that in such situations it would shift its focus from enforcing the act to providing technical assistance, but retained the right to enforce the act if necessary.

A panel discussed the interplay between recording injuries on OSHA 300 forms, reporting injuries to OSHA, and workers’ compensation.  The panel discussed the intricacies of the OSHA regulations and workers’ compensation laws, including differing definitions and requirements,  and the close analysis required to determine what is required of employers when these three areas collide.  Given the facts of an injury, a universal approach in these three areas may not be appropriate, but rather a thorough review of each regulation is necessary to ensure employers meet their obligations.

Finally, a panel discussed current issues related to conducting inspections including OSHA’s ability to obtain administrative warrants, whether non-employee representatives can be authorized to participate in a walk around inspection, whether non-management employees have the ability to request representation during an interview, and OSHA’s subpoena power and the scope of attorney representation of the subpoenaed employee during the interview. Finally, the panel discussed OSHA’s recent use of drones during inspections, including interaction with FAA regulations and the safety of people on the ground.

More to come from the conference tomorrow…

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, Daniel R. Birnbaum, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: With the seemingly random workplace violence that continues unabated, many employers are again asking how best to protect their employees.

We had blogged previously about “Workplace Violence Prevention: DHS Promotes “Active Shooter Preparedness” Programs – Is Your Company Ready?”  In addition, we blogged about an “Airport Active Shooter Incident — What Can Happen in Just 15 Seconds, and What Business Needs to Know.”  These blogs illustrate that there are programs that may be developed, with some assistance from models and safety professionals.  Active planning ahead of any such instance may lessen the damages and increase safety and early responses.

OSHA defines “workplace violence” as an act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.  It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.  It can involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors.  In addition, OSHA asserts that nearly two million American workers report being victims of workplace violence each year.  According to OSHA: “unfortunately, many more cases go unreported.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the number of workplace homicides in 2015 “accounted for approximately 9 percent of all fatal occupational injuries in 2015. There were 417 workplace homicides in 2015, a slight increase from 2014 but down 12 percent from the 475 reported in 2012.”  “Eighty-five percent of workplace homicide victims in 2015 were men. Of the 417 workplace homicides in 2015, 356 were homicides to men and 61 were homicides to women. Homicides represented 18 percent of fatal occupational injuries to women in 2015 compared with 8 percent of fatal occupational injuries to men.”

Notably for retailers and transportation providers, “first-line supervisors of retail sales workers (40 fatalities), cashiers (35 fatalities), police and sheriff’s patrol officers (34 fatalities), and taxi drivers (27 fatalities) were the occupations with the greatest number of homicides in 2015..”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that the magnitude of workplace violence in the U.S. is measured with fatal and nonfatal statistics from several sources. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) reported “16,890 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2016. These incidents required days away from work.”

In 2016, “of those victims who died from workplace violence, 82% were male, 69% were aged 25 to 54, 31% were working in a retail establishment, 23% were performing protective service activities.”

In response to workplace violence events the DHS had issued its “Active Shooter Preparedness Program.” The Program was intended to enhance preparedness through a “whole community” by providing training, products, and resources to a broad range of stakeholders on issues such as “active shooter awareness, incident response, and workplace violence.” The DHS has found that in many cases, “there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter, and these situations are, by their very nature, unpredictable and evolve quickly.”

In DHS Active Shooter Preparedness research, it was found that in 160 Active Shooter incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013, the incidents occurred most frequently in areas of commerce (46 %), followed by educational environments (24 %), and government properties (10 %).

The DHS materials indicate that an effective active shooter plan will include the following:

  • Proactive steps that can be taken by facility tenants to identify individuals who may be on a trajectory to commit a violent act.
  • A preferred method for reporting active shooter incidents, including informing all those at the facility or who may be entering the facility.
  • How to neutralize the threat and achieve life safety objectives.
  • Evacuation, shelter-in-place, hide, and lockdown policies and procedures for individual offices and buildings.
  • Integration with the facility incident commander and the external incident commander.
  • Information concerning local area emergency response agencies and hospitals (i.e., name, telephone number, and distance from the location), including internal phone numbers and contacts.
  • How operations will be restored.

DHS suggests that after company or facility specific policy and procedures, including an active shooter plan are finalized, training and exercises should occur, with drills and exercises at least annually.

Additionally, OSHA indicates that “in most workplaces where risk factors can be identified,” the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. It suggests that one of the best protections is a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.  The policy, OSHA advises, should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. By assessing worksites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring. “OSHA believes that a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and federal workplaces.”

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 Jeryl L. OlsonKay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: New Illinois Office of State Fire Marshall (“OSFM”) regulations, (42 Ill. Reg. 10476, 10662-667, June 15, 2018, effective October 13, 2018), require that periodic operation and maintenance include recorded “walkthrough inspections” for underground storage tank (UST) facilities. 

Under new OSFM rules, each Class A Operator, who has the primary responsibility of operating and maintaining the UST system, and Class B Operator, designated with day-to-day aspects of operating, maintaining and recordkeeping for UST systems “… shall perform walkthrough inspections of each storage tank system for which he or she is designated, and shall record the results of each inspection on a checklist to be maintained with the facility records.”  The walkthrough inspection requirement took effect on October 13, 2018, and replaces the previous requirement to conduct quarterly equipment inspections.  The rules under Part 35, Section 176.655 of the Illinois Administrative Code, require that at a minimum, a walkthrough inspection shall be conducted at least once every 30 days and include inspection of:

  • Release detection methods, including monitoring systems and all associated sensors;
  • The integrity of spill and overfill prevention and spill containment equipment and manholes;
  • Dispensers, hoses, breakaways and hardware for leaks and damage; and
  • Operational status of impressed current cathodic protection systems, including checking and recording that the power is on and that the voltage, amps and hour meter have the appropriate readings required under Section 175.510(f), with a log entry that shows date of inspection, initials of inspector, hour, volt and amp readings, and power on verification.

In addition, at least once per year the Operator shall inspect:

  • All containment sumps by: (i) checking for visual damage to the sumps, covers and lids; (ii) checking for the presence of regulated substances or any indication that a release may have occurred; and (iii) checking that the sumps and the interstitial areas for any double-walled sumps with interstitial monitoring are free of water, product and debris;
  • All UST equipment including emergency stops for the presence or absence of visible damage to any UST component;
  • Emergency stops to document they have been tested by the owner/operator or a contractor for interconnection and pump shutdown;
  • Shear valves to document they have been visually inspected by the owner/operator or a contractor;
  • All required signs to ensure they are fully visible and all communication systems in place and operational;
  • All daily, 30-day, monthly and annual inspections, testing, reporting and records required under 41 Ill. Adm. Code 174, 175 and 176; and
  • If applicable, the tank gauge stick or groundwater bailers, for operability and serviceability (manual tank gauging or groundwater monitoring).

To assist owners and operators with rule compliance and recordkeeping requirements, the OSFM provides a UST Operations and Maintenance Plan Template Form (OSFM O&M Plan Template).  As noted in the OSFM O&M Plan Template and in the rules, each Class A or Class B Operator “shall perform walkthrough inspections” of each storage tank system for which they are designated and shall record the results of each inspection “on a checklist to be maintained with the facility records.”  Specific 30 day inspection report forms and annual walkthrough inspection report forms are also available from the OSFM.  The OSFM also provides FAQs For Class A, B, and C Operator Training.

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

By Brent I. ClarkIlana R. Morady, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: MSHA just announced a Request for Information (RFI) on safety improvement technologies for mobile equipment and for belt conveyors, both at surface mines. 83 Fed. Reg. 29716 (June 26, 2018).

In its RFI MSHA notes that “mining safety could be substantially improved by preventing accidents that involve mobile equipment at surface coal mines and metal and nonmetal mines and belt conveyors at surface and underground mines.”  As part of an “Awareness Campaign” on mobile equipment and conveyor belts, MSHA is seeking information on the role of engineering controls that that might (1) increase the use of seatbelts, (2) enhance the equipment operator’s ability to see all areas near the machine, (3) warn operators of potential collision hazards, (4) prevent operators from driving over a highwall or dump point, and (5) prevent entanglement hazards near moving or re-energized conveyor belts.  MSHA indicates that it is requesting this information and data to reduce the risk of accidents and to improve miner safety.

MSHA is also indicating that it will hold stakeholder meetings to provide interested stakeholders with an opportunity to discuss and share information about the issues raised in the RFI.  It will publish a separate notice announcing the stakeholder meetings in the Federal Register at a later date.

Comments and responses to the RFI are due by December 24, 2018.  Submissions and responses to the RFI may be found at docket number MSHA_FRDOC_0001.

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

Seyfarth Synopsis: This morning our panel from Seyfarth’s Workplace Safety team led a briefing on OSHA regulation and enforcement under the Trump Administration. 

One year into the Trump Administration, employers’ expectations for a more business-friendly Agency have not yet materialized, as the still-leaderless Agency proceeds ahead with widespread aggressive enforcement. The panel addressed recent developments and trends our Group has seen from federal OSHA, including the stalled nomination of Scott Mugno to head the Agency.  The panel also discussed:

  • Continued Aggressive Enforcement Trends Under the Trump Administration
  • Ongoing OSHA Initiatives such as Electronic Reporting
  • Workplace Violence
  • The Rise of Whistleblowers
  • Best Practices for Managing an OSHA Inspection

Finally, the panel discussed practical tips to guide employers in this new regulatory environment.

If you were able to attend, thank you very much.  If not, see you next time. Either way, here are our presentation slides. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions on the materials.

For more information on Seyfarth’s Workplace Safety and Environmental team, see our recent blog posts and articles.

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Tuesday, May 15, 2018, a panel from Seyfarth’s Workplace Safety team will lead an interactive Breakfast Briefing on OSHA regulation and enforcement. 

One year into the Trump Administration, employers’ expectations for a more business-friendly Agency have not yet materialized, as the still-leaderless Agency proceeds ahead with widespread aggressive enforcement. The panel will address the new developments and trends we have seen from federal OSHA, including the stalled nomination of Scott Mugno to head the Agency.  The panel will also discuss:

  • Continued Aggressive Enforcement Trends Under the Trump Administration
  • Ongoing OSHA Initiatives such as Electronic Reporting
  • Workplace Violence
  • The Rise of Whistleblowers
  • Best Practices for Managing an OSHA Inspection

Finally, the panel will discuss best practices for managing an OSHA inspection, with practical tips to guide employers in this new regulatory environment.  To register for the Breakfast Briefing, follow the link below.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018
8:00 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Breakfast & Registration
8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Program

Seyfarth Shaw LLP
233 S Wacker Dr., Suite 8000
Chicago, IL, 60605

Register Here

For more information on Seyfarth’s Workplace Safety and Environmental team, see our recent blog posts and articles.

By Brent I. ClarkIlana R. Morady, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: MSHA just announced its Final Rule on Examinations of Working Places in Metal and Nonmetal Mines. 83 Fed. Reg. 15055 (April 9, 2018).

The Final Rule, which will be effective on June 2, 2018, requires that:

  • Each working place be examined at least once each shift for conditions that may adversely affect safety or health of miners before work begins or as miners begin work in that place;
  • Mine operators promptly notify miners in affected areas of any conditions that may adversely affect their safety or health and promptly initiate appropriate corrective action. Notification is only necessary when adverse conditions are not promptly corrected before miners are exposed;
  • A record of the examination be made before the end of each shift, including the name of the person conducting the examination; the date of the examination; location of all areas examined; a description of each condition found that may adversely affect the safety or health of miners that is not promptly corrected, and the date of the corrective action (when that occurs); and
  • The record be made available to MSHA and miners’ representatives upon request.

The new rule imposes new requirements on mine operators, but is notably less burdensome that previous iterations of the workplace examination rule that has been in process for several years. For example, a previous proposed version of the rule would have required operators to examine workplaces before work began, whereas now the rule adds on “or as miners begin work in that place.” Also importantly, a previous version of the rule would have required operators to notify miners of all identified conditions, even if those conditions had been corrected before work began. Now, under the final rule, notification will only be required with respect to conditions that are not corrected. On a related note, operators need only make a record of conditions that are not promptly corrected.

Although the new rule is less burdensome on the regulated community than previous versions of the rule would have been, operators need to be mindful of potential pitfalls. The new rule appears to leave open the opportunity for MSHA to use operator examination records as “evidence” of a violation, or to support higher negligence findings. And of course the new requirements will provide MSHA with more bases to issue citations, since it will be a violation to not complete the various requirements under the new rule, including documentation of the date corrective action is completed for issues not promptly corrected.

MSHA is holding stakeholder meetings at six locations across the country to provide “outreach and compliance assistance materials on the Final Rule.” In addition, that Agency plans stakeholder meetings in Seattle, Washington, and at MSHA’s district offices by way of video teleconferencing at a later date.

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

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

Employee Rights Employment Equality Job Business Commuter ConcepSeyfarth Synopsis: In a victory for employers, OSHA has rescinded its policy allowing union representatives 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 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.

In September, 2016 the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) sued in Federal Court to challenge OSHA’s “illegal administrative expansion” of the “walk-around” right. The NFIB complaint focused on the fact that, for over four decades, OSHA construed the Act to “afford employees a limited right to accompany an OSHA compliance safety and health officer during a workplace inspection.” See 29 C.F.R. § 1903.8.

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. On February 3, 2017, the federal court put a serious dent in OSHA’s continued reliance on the interpretation in a ruling signaling victory to the rising chorus of objections from the business community. 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.

On April 25, 2017, OSHA withdrew this policy via a Rescission Memo.  It states that “given the express guidance in the statute and the applicable regulation, OSHA is withdrawing the February 21, 2013 letter to Mr. Sallman as unnecessary.  Likewise, the guidance in this memorandum supersedes OSHA Instruction CPL 02-00-160, Field Operations Manual (FOM) (8/2/2016), Chapter 3, Section VII.A, which will be revised accordingly.”

Following OSHA’s rescission, NFIB voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit.

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.