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.

By James L. CurtisAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  We had blogged previously that OSHA appealed an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) ruling that severely limited OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine and citation of a “controlling employer” general contractor. Acosta v. Hensel Phelps Constr. Co., No. 17-60543 (5th Cir. August 4, 2017).  The Fifth Circuit has now reversed the ALJ, and upheld OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine.

In dramatic language, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (governing federal law in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana) announced, that “thirty-seven years ago, this court, in a tort case, announced that ‘OSHA regulations protect only an employer’s own employees’.”  Melerine v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 659 F.2d 706, 711 (5th Cir. 1981).  That decision had endured despite the seismic shift brought about by Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), and of broader employer liability under the Act.  Acosta v Hensel Phelps Construction, No 17-60543 (5th Cir November 26, 2018).  OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine enables the Agency to cite employers who are “controlling,” “exposing,” “creating,” or “correcting” safety hazards.  OSHA regularly cites general contractors as “controlling” employers with regard to hazards only faced by subcontractor employees.

In the instant appeal, the Court was asked whether OSHA has the authority, under either the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C. § 651 et seq. (the Act), or regulations, “to issue a citation to a general contractor at a multi-employer construction worksite who controls a hazardous condition at that worksite, even if the condition affects another employer’s employees.”  The Court concluded that OSHA does indeed have that authority under the Act.

Factually, an OSHA compliance officer conducted an inspection of the site and discovered three sub-contractor employees working at the base of an unprotected wall of evacuated soil.  The contractor’s and the subcontractor’s superintendents were present at the wall, with full views of the subcontractor’s employees working near the wall.  OSHA cited both contractor and the subcontractor for willfully violating 29 C.F.R. § 1926.652(a)(1) for allegedly “exposing employees to a cave-in hazard from an unprotected excavation at a construction site.”

The ALJ determined that the contractor met the requirements to be considered a “controlling employer” who had a duty under 29 U.S.C. § 651 et seq., to “act reasonably to prevent or detect and abate violations at the worksite even when the affected employees are those of another employer.”  However, because the citation arose within the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit, the ALJ found that “Fifth Circuit precedent foreclosed the citation” against the general contractor.  The ALJ relied on Melerine, Inc., 659 F.2d at 711, finding that “an employer at a worksite within the Fifth Circuit cannot be held in violation of the Act when the employees exposed to the hazard were employees of a different employer.”

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, 2000 WL 294514 (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.

The Court here concluded that “an agency’s interpretation of its governing statute in an administrative adjudication ‘is as much an exercise of delegated lawmaking powers as is the Secretary’s promulgation of a workplace health and safety standard… The Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine is an agency document that provides guidance to OSHA inspectors as to when it may be appropriate to cite a particular employer.”  The Secretary did not derive any authority from the Policy in issuing the citation to Hensel Phelps; “he relied on the statute itself and engaged in adjudication on the basis of that statutory authority.”  The Court found that the Secretary’s construction of the statute as granting authority to issue citations to controlling employers is a “reasonably defensible” one.

Accordingly, OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite Doctrine is now fully enforceable in the Fifth Circuit.

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) or Workplace Policies and Handbooks Teams.

By James L. Curtis, Daniel R. Birnbaum, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: Employers should prepare for the holiday shopping season and protect their employees from harm and injuries.

As the holiday shopping season approaches, OSHA has previously reminded retail and hospitality employers of the importance of taking safety precautions during the holiday season’s major sales events, such as Black Friday.

Holiday shopping has increasingly become associated with violence and hazards. There has been numerous instances of riots, shootings, and pepper-spray attacks in crowds looking for holiday deals.  In one case, a worker was trampled to death while a mob of shoppers rushed through the doors of a store to take advantage of a Black Friday sales event.  Events of violence and shooting at malls and retail establishments have become all too common in our society.  Additionally, retail distribution centers that fill customer orders are exceedingly busy at this time of year and often staffed with new and/or temporary workers.  Such increased staffing levels can lead to increased workplace accidents.

Under OSHA’s general duty clause, “employers are responsible for providing a place of employment free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause serious injury or death.”  To minimize injuries in the workplace during the holiday season, OSHA’s website on Holiday Workplace Safety provides employers with recommendations for crowd management plans and safe practices for retail distribution centers.

Retailers are advised to review and implement the OSHA suggestions for crowd management. Adopting, implementing, and training store employees on the crowd management plan will both lessen the risk of employee and shopper incidents, and will assist the employer in fending off potential OSHA enforcement proceedings, should an accident occur.

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, Kay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth SynopsisThe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has initiated a Site-Specific Targeting 2016 (SST-16) Program using the injury and illness information electronically submitted by employers to initiate OSHA inspections.  OSHA Directive No. 18-01, CPL 02, effective October 16, 2018.

In its news release about the Site-Specific Targeting 2016 Program, OSHA indicated that it “will target high injury rate establishments in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors for inspection.”  The agency will then perform comprehensive inspections of employers who are selected for Program.  For CY 2016, OSHA required employers to electronically submit Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) by December 15, 2017. The deadline for submitting the 300A data for CY 2017 was July 1, 2018, though OSHA indicted that employers may still provide this information to the database.

The SST-16 indicates that “OSHA will create inspection lists of establishments with elevated Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART) rate, together with a random sample of establishments that did not provide the required 2016 Form 300A data to OSHA.”  The inspection cycles are generated using software that randomly selects the establishments from among those that fall into the categories above. According to OSHA, the purpose of including non-responding employers on the inspection list is to deter employers from failing to report their injury and illness information in order to avoid inspection.  Similarly, OSHA will select a sample of low DART rate establishments to verify the reliability of the 300A data being submitted to the agency.  The scope of the inspection will be comprehensive, and not simply limited to recordkeeping practices or potentially hazardous areas or operations that caused an elevated DART rate.  Employers who have received a comprehensive safety or health inspection within 36 months of the creation of the SST-16 inspection list will not be inspected again.

Going forward, establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records, and establishments with 20-249 employees that are classified in specific industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses, will be required to electronically submit their 300A forms to OSHA each year by March 2.

In the SST-16, OSHA clearly lays out how the agency plans to use the injury and illness data it now electronically collects from employers.  Given the tangible impact the data will have on programmed OSHA inspections, employers are advised to take a proactive approach to monitor and address patterns in their injury and illness rates and should take care to ensure they are submitting accurate records to OSHA.

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 Mark A. Lies, II,  Brent I. ClarkAdam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  OSHA has just issued a Standard Interpretation clarifying the Obama-era guidance that prohibited incentive programs and circumscribed post-incident drug testing;  “Clarification of OSHA’s Position on Workplace Safety Incentive Programs and Post-Incident Drug Testing Under 29 C.F.R. §1904.35(b)(1)(iv).”

We previously blogged about OSHA’s 2016 retaliation regulation and associated guidance, which had explained examples of post-accident drug-testing and safety incentive as instances of unlawful retaliation.  OSHA’s 2016 retaliation rule left employers uncertain about what programs were permissible and whether they would face citations for long-standing safety programs aimed at encouraging safe behaviors and reducing injury rates.

  1. OSHA’s Revised Perspective is Apparent in the New Standard Interpretation

OSHA’s new Standard Interpretation intends to “to clarify the Department’s position that [the rule] does not prohibit workplace safety incentive programs or post-incident drug testing. The Department believes that many employers who implement safety incentive programs and/or conduct post-incident drug testing do so to promote workplace safety and health.”  The Interpretation explains that “evidence that the employer consistently enforces legitimate work rules (whether or not an injury or illness is reported) would demonstrate that the employer is serious about creating a culture of safety, not just the appearance of reducing rates.”

Post-incident drug testing policies and safety incentive programs will be considered retaliatory and unlawful only where they seek “to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health.”  Properly formulated and lawful post-incident drug testing policies and safety incentive programs will be permitted and will not result in OSHA citations.

  1. OSHA Permits Consistent Post-Incident Drug Testing Policies

For years, OSHA’s position on post-incident drug testing confounded employers, and employers faced complicated questions in the hours following workplace safety incidents.  The Standard Interpretation clarifies that “most instances of workplace drug testing are permissible,” including:

  • “Random drug testing”;
  • “Drug testing unrelated to the reporting of a work-related injury or illness”;
  • “Drug testing under a state workers’ compensation law”;
  • “Drug testing under other federal law, such as a U.S. Department of Transportation rule”; and
  • “Drug testing to evaluate the root cause of a workplace incident that harmed or could have harmed employees.  If the employer chooses to use drug testing to investigate the incident, the employer should test all employees whose conduct could have contributed to the incident, not just employees who reported injuries.”

Accordingly, employers may lawfully implement, random drug testing programs, DOT drug testing programs, drug testing programs under a Collective Bargaining Agreement, and post-incident (also “post-accident”) drug-testing programs.  Post-incident drug testing should be conducted consistently on any employee whose conduct may have contributed to the accident, and not merely the employee who was injured in an accident.  For example, if a forklift operator collides with a pedestrian and injures the pedestrian, both the operator and pedestrian should be drug tested.  OSHA reiterates that employers may not use a post-injury drug testing program, which the Agency views as retaliatory and also exposes employers to worker’s compensation retaliation tort claims.

  1. OSHA Permits Safety Incentive Programs

The Standard Interpretation reverses course on the 2016 retaliation regulation’s prohibition of safety programs.  With limited adjustments, OSHA now permits employers to bring back reporting-based safety programs, which the Standard Interpretation lauds as an “important tool to promote workplace safety and health.”  The Standard Interpretation permits a program which offers a prize or bonus at the end of an injury-free month.  OSHA’s new position thus permits employers to bring back cash bonuses or the much-maligned monthly pizza party.  The Standard Interpretation also permits programs that evaluate managers based on their work unit’s lack of injuries.

However, to lawfully implement such a safety program, the employer must implement “adequate precautions” to ensure that employees feel free to report an injury or illness and are not discouraged from reporting.  According to OSHA, a mere statement that employees are encouraged to report and will not face retaliation is insufficient.  Employers need to undertake their choice of additional “adequate precautions,” such as:

  • “An incentive program that rewards employees for identifying unsafe conditions in the workplace;”
  • “A training program for all employees to reinforce reporting rights and responsibilities and emphasizes the employer’s non-retaliation policy;” or
  • “A mechanism for accurately evaluating employees’ willingness to report injuries and illnesses.”

The Standard Interpretation thus permits and encourages safety incentive programs that reward employees for identifying unsafe conditions in the workplace.  A second precaution, a brief training on reporting illnesses and injuries, would be simple for employers to conduct and add to onboarding for new hires.  The “mechanism for accurately evaluating employees willingness to report” could be a regularly scheduled, random questionnaire on employee willingness to report injuries and illnesses.  Accordingly, if employers adopt these low-burden precautionary measures, they may bring back or now adopt safety programs that are popular and effective at reducing workplace injury rates.

For related information on drug testing requirements, we had blogged on the recent Department of Transportation (DOT) final rule amending its drug testing program for DOT-regulated employers.

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 TeamLabor & Employment, or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Teams.

By Joshua M. HendersonIlana R. Morady, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  Last week, Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill No. 2334, Occupational Injuries and Illness, Employer Reporting Requirements, and Electronic Submission.

A six-month statute of limitations period currently applies to all citations issued under Cal/OSHA. Assembly Bill 2334 will allow the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), starting January 1, 2019, to cite employers for injury and illness record-keeping violations “until it is corrected, or the division discovers the violation, or the duty to comply with the violated requirement ceases to exist.” In theory, the six-month limitation period could, depending on the circumstances, extend up to the five years that employers must maintain injury and illness records.  The limit firmly remains six months for federal OSHA.  See OSHA “Removes” Late Term Rule Which Allowed OSHA to Cite Injury Recordkeeping Violations Going Back Five-Years.

The new law also may require the state to establish an advisory committee to determine whether employers should be required to file copies of their workplace injury and illness (WII) records with the state.

The law’s provisions leave many questions to be determined.  For example, if federal OSHA drops the requirement for employers to electronically file summaries of each injury with the Agency, would the committee recommend Cal/OSHA require employers to file with the state, instead?  It may well be quite a while before the committee is even created, much less makes recommendations to Cal/OSHA because the committee would conceptually be formed after federal OSHA loosens current filing requirements.

The bill appears to be a direct reaction to the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back record-keeping mandates set during the previous administration. Under the Obama administration, federal OSHA established a 5-year limit for record-keeping violations, however that limit was set aside by a congressional resolution signed by President Trump. The Trump Administration also substantially diminished employer obligations to electronically submit injury and illness data to federal OSHA.

We have frequently blogged on the contentious federal WII Rule.  See Roller Coaster Rulemaking: OSHA Publishes Proposed Rule to Reduce Injury and Illness Electronic Reporting RequirementsAll State Plan Employers are Now Required to Electronically File 2017 Form 300A DataOSHA 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.

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 Mark A. Lies, IIJames L. CurtisDaniel Birnbaum, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  New Review Commission decision refines the definition of what OSHA must prove to establish a “Repeat” violation.

On September 30, 2008, OSHA issued a citation to Angelica Textile Services, Inc., a commercial laundry, alleging ten Serious and four Repeat items. Seyfarth represented the employer, Angelica Textile Services, Inc. After the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, the Administrative Law Judge issued a decision affirming two of the Serious items and vacating the remaining twelve items, including the Repeat citations. The Secretary of Labor appealed, arguing that the judge improperly vacated two Repeat citations that alleged deficiencies of permit required confined spaces (PRCS) and lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures.

On July 24, 2018, nearly a decade after the citations were issued, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Commission) affirmed the previously vacated citation items, but characterized and reclassified them as Serious rather than Repeat violations, and issued a single reduced penalty of $7,000. See Secretary of Labor v. Angelica Textile Services, Inc., No. 08-1774.

Most importantly, the Commission refined the definition of what OSHA must prove to establish a Repeat violation. OSHA has traditionally taken the position that all the evidence it had to show to meet the “substantial similarity” standard was merely that the same type of equipment, process or regulation that was involved in the current violation was also involved in a prior final citation which served as the basis for the Repeat violation. In the Angelica decision, the Commission clarified that a showing of “substantial similarity” can be rebutted with a showing of “disparate conditions and hazards associated with these violations of the same standard.”

The decision also refined what defenses an employer may have to a Repeat citation based on the abatement actions it took to abate the earlier violation. Applied to the facts of the case, the Commission noted that the prior PRCS citation identified “critical deficiencies” in the employer’s compliance program.  However, in response to the prior citation, the Company “actively sought out and eliminated similar hazards,” including developing a PRCS program specific to the condition cited.

The majority in Angelica noted that the Company’s prior abatement efforts also resulted in reduced citations in the current matter.  Similarly, the Commission noted that the prior LOTO citation to the Company had identified a “comprehensive failure of compliance.”  However, the present case involved procedures established in the interim, as well as surveys completed for machines that the Company had undertaken in response to the prior violations.  Rather than lacking the previous comprehensive procedures as was the case in the earlier citations, there were only two discrete deficiencies in the employer’s current program.

Significantly, the Commission also remarked in a footnote that the Secretary had accepted the Company’s prior abatement method, thus giving no basis for OSHA to conclude that the Company knew that its interim safety precautions and corrective actions were not compliant.

After comparing the employer’s attempts at compliance with the prior and subsequent citations, the Commission reasoned that, while the prior citations had been based on a complete failure to comply, the current citations reflected only minimal deficiencies. In other words, “[the Company] took affirmative steps to achieve compliance and avoid similar violations in the future.”  Because of these interim abatement actions, the Commission concluded that there was no basis for a Repeat citation.

In light of the Angelica decision, it appears that OSHA’s burden of proof has been measurably increased to establish a Repeat violation and it will be more difficult for OSHA to prove Repeat citations against employers. Following the acceptance of a citation, employers should work with a team well versed in the concepts espoused in the Angelica decision so that it can take the appropriate steps to establish that it acted in good faith and took effective and documented action to correct the violation. Employers should “actively [seek] out and eliminate[] similar hazards,” or “[take] affirmative steps to achieve compliance and avoid similar violations in the future.”  As there is no mechanical way to avoid a Repeat citation, and the corrective actions taken will depend on the factual circumstances surrounding the citation, employers should consult experienced counsel for guidance on what constitutes abatement of the citation and how to properly document such actions. Most importantly, beyond the concern of legal liability, if an employer takes the interim actions endorsed by the Angelica decision, it will measurably enhance the safety and health of its workplace.

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. CurtisKay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  A railcar cleaning company and its executive officers were recently charged in a 22-count indictment with conspiracy, violating worker safety standards resulting in worker deaths, violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and for submitting false documents to a federal agency.

Nebraska Railcar Cleaning Services LLC (NRCS) employees sent workers in to railcars to scrape and remove various commodities from tanker cars, including gasoline, ethanol, petroleum by-products, pesticides, herbicides, and food grade products.  Two of the company’s workers were killed and a third was injured when the contents of a railcar ignited while being cleaned.  According to the indictment, the company, NRCS and its owners and executives, allegedly failed to implement worker safety standards and then tried to cover that up during an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection.  The defendants also allegedly mishandled hazardous wastes removed from rail tanker cars during the cleaning process.

OSHA requires employers to test air in confined spaces such as rail tanker cars for hazardous gases prior to allowing employees to enter the confined workspace, and to provide employees exposed to certain chemicals with respirators for which they must be assessed and fit tested.  EPA requires facilities like NRCS to ensure that hazardous wastes generated are properly treated and disposed of.

The indictment alleges that after a 2013 inspection of NRCS, the company represented that NRCS had been testing for hazardous wastes, including benzene, since July 2014.  After OSHA returned to NRCS in March 2015 to conduct a follow-up inspection and was turned away, documents were “created” and submitted to OSHA to “falsely show” that NRCS had been purchasing equipment to test the contents of railcars for benzene and had taken other required safety precautions.  In addition, “during inspections by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 and 2014 respectively, NRCS was informed that it was required to test its wastes to determine if they were hazardous in order to properly dispose of them, rather than send all untested waste to a landfill not permitted to receive hazardous waste.”  The indictment alleges that was not done before April 2015.

In April 2015, the contents of a railcar ignited while being cleaned by NRCS employees. Two employees were killed and a third was injured. Two days after the explosion, NRCS had three railcars tested to assess whether their contents were hazardous, and two were determined to be hazardous.

Employer Takeaways

This indictment presents a good example of what not to do when dealing with OSHA and environmental agency inspectors.  First, if the employer represents that it is implementing certain safety measures — do it!  Secondly, the case serves as a reminder of the importance of providing complete and accurate submittals to government entities.  A deliberate falsification can have serious ramifications, both by way of civil penalties and criminal prosecution.  As everyone has learned through countless infamous cases, it’s not the crime but the cover-up that will really come back to bite the employer.

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. CurtisKay R. Bonza, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  OSHA today published a proposed rule to amend the injury and illness recordkeeping rules by rescinding the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 and 301.  OSHA is amending provisions of the “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” (WII Rule) final rule to protect sensitive worker information from potential disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  83 Fed. Reg. 36494 (July 30, 2018).

OSHA, in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), has “preliminarily determined” that the risk of disclosure of information contained in OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses) and OSHA Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report), the costs to OSHA of collecting and using the information and the reporting burden on employers are “unjustified given the uncertain benefits of collecting the information.”  The proposed rule eliminates the requirement to file the Form 300 and 301 for establishments with 250 or more employees.  These large employers will still be required to electronically file the OSHA 300A summary of work-related injuries and illnesses. OSHA submits that this proposed change will maintain safety and health protections for workers while also reducing the burden to employers of complying with the current rule.

We had blogged previously on the WII Rule.  See All State Plan Employers are Now Required to Electronically File 2017 Form 300A DataOSHA 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..

In the proposed rule, OSHA notes that Form 301 requires the collection of sensitive information about each individual worker’s job-linked illness or injury, information an employer must collect with or without the worker’s consent.  “While some of the information is likelier to be regarded as particularly sensitive—namely, descriptions of injuries and the body parts affected—most of the form’s questions seek answers that should not be lightly disclosed, including:”

  • Was employee treated in an emergency room?
  • Was employee hospitalized overnight as an in-patient?
  • Date of birth?
  • Date of injury?
  • What was the employee doing just before the incident occurred? Describe the activity, as well as the tools, equipment, or material the employee was using. Be specific.
  • What happened? Tell us how the injury occurred.
  • What was the injury or illness? Tell us the part of the body that was affected and how it was affected; be more specific than “hurt,” “pain,” or “sore.”
  • What object or substance directly harmed the employee?

In the May 2016 final rule (81 Fed. Reg. 29624), the recordkeeping regulation was revised to require establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from the OSHA Forms 300, 300A, and 301 to OSHA annually.  Individual injury and illness case information from these forms could be disclosed to third parties pursuant to FOIA requests from the public, thereby endangering worker privacy.  The NPRM proposes to amend OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping regulation by rescinding the requirement for establishments with 250 or more employees to electronically submit information from the OSHA Forms 300 and 301, to protect sensitive worker information.  OSHA also admits that it has not devised a plan for how it would “collect, process, analyze distribute, and programmatically apply” this information in a meaningful way to justify its collection.

OSHA seeks comment on this proposal, particularly on its impact on worker privacy, including the risks posed by exposing workers’ sensitive information to possible FOIA disclosure.  Comments, due on September 28, 2018, may be submitted to docket number OSHA-2013-0023.

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 Mark A. Lies, IIJames L. Curtis, Adam R. Young, and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis:  A contractor’s employee fell 36 feet while working at a warehouse construction site and not using fall-protection equipment.  Following a bench trial before the District Court, the Defendant contractor DNRB, Inc. was convicted of a Class B misdemeanor for willfully violating two safety regulations (29 C.F.R. § 1926.760(a)(l) and (b)(l)), and causing the employee’s death. The Eighth Circuit upheld the conviction.

  1. Willful Fall Protection Citation Based on Fatality Leads to Criminal Prosecution.

OSHA commonly cites construction employers whose employees fail to use fall protection.  In fact, 29 CFR § 1926.501 (Fall Protection in Construction) is the most frequently cited regulation by federal OSHA.  Employers who fail to provide and enforce the use of fall protection do so at their own peril, as OSHA will cite employers with willful violations, dramatically increasing the civil penalties.  In the event of a fatality a willful citation can then lead to a criminal prosecution by the Department of Justice.

  1. Presence of Fall Protection Equipment Does not Negate Criminal Intent.

United States v DNRB, Inc., No. 17-3148 (8th Cir. July 17, 2018), is an example  of just this kind of prosecution, where OSHA cited the employer for a willful violation of the fall protection standard for steel erection rules, 29 C.F.R. § 1926.760.  The Contractor was also criminally prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to the maximum penalty.

On appeal, the employer challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, several evidentiary rulings and the sentence imposing the statutory maximum fine of $500,000.  It argued that the Department of Justice failed to prove the three elements necessary to find a criminal conviction (29 CFR § 666(e)): (1) that the company violated an applicable standard, (2) that it did so willfully, and (3) that the violation caused an employee’s death.

Principally, the employer argued that its conduct was not willful because it provided fall protection and anchorage points, and the employee was wearing a harness.  The Court countered that while the employee had a personal fall-arrest harness and connectors, he was not using them to secure himself to an anchorage point on the warehouse’s frame.  The Court explained that “the regulations state that employees ‘shall be protected’ by appropriate equipment, not that they merely be provided with or possess such equipment” (emphasis added).

  1. Court Relies on Past Citation and Prior Warning to Establish Criminal Intent.

The Eighth Circuit then noted that the Contractor had a previous citation for violating the same standard (§1926.760), and so concluded that the Contractor was aware of its requirements.  “Moreover, a supervisor’s knowledge can be imputed to his employer, and there was evidence supporting a conclusion that [the employee’s] supervisor … intentionally disregarded the safety requirements here.”  In fact “a crane operator stated that he expressly warned [the supervisor] about [the employee’s] failure to use fall-protection equipment.”

Finally, the Court found that the employee would not have fallen to his death had he been connected to an anchorage point, and that the employer’s failure to make him use required fall-protection equipment was a “but-for cause” of his death.  In addition it determined that the fall was “a foreseeable and natural result” of working more than 30 feet above the ground without using fall-protection equipment.

  1. Employers Must Enforce Safety Rules and Contest Unfounded Citations.

Employers may draw numerous lessons from this case.  Foremost is the absolute importance of providing fall protection, supervising employees who are exposed to fall hazards to ensure they use the equipment, and enforcing the employer’s safety rules.  Only then will employers be able to prove the affirmative defense of employee misconduct when an employee fails to use his assigned fall protection equipment.  United States v DNRB, Inc., shows the perils for employers who fail to enforce safety rules and fail to respond to reports of noncompliance by an employee.  This case also illustrates how accepting and settling citations may set-up an employer for a willful citation in the future, and even a criminal prosecution in the event of a fatal accident.  Employers should consult with legal counsel regarding an OSHA fall protection citation and ensure that any defensible citations are contested and vacated.

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.