OSHA and Workplace Violence

The workplace violence tragedy in Florida yesterday where a lone gunman killed five people and then himself at an Orlando awning factory is a sad reminder that workplace violence remains a serious issue for businesses. OSHA estimates that approximately 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year and that it can strike anywhere, at any time. In fact, during a recent fire drill at our building, the Fire Warden spoke not only about emergency exit procedures during a fire but protocols when an active shooter is in the building. Although it is a frightening scenario to think about, businesses can and should be proactive about identifying potential workplace violence incidents and providing appropriate training.

Although there are no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence, ignoring signs and failing to abate recognized hazards including workplace violence could lead to a violation of Section 5(a)(1), the general duty clause, of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Specifically, an employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats or other indicators showing the potential for workplace violence would be on notice for risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace violence prevention program including engineering controls, administrative controls, and training as it generally should for any other kind of recognized hazard in the workplace. Indeed, some states such as New York already require certain employers (public employers) to have a written workplace violence program including conducting a hazard assessment.

Although it is too early to tell in the Orlando case what, if any, signs existed that might have predicted the shooting, law enforcement has stated that it appears the shooter was singling out individuals and that he had at least one negative relationship with one of the victims. In many of these tragedies, there may have been visible workplace violence signs or other indicators.  (more…)

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Electronic Submission of Records Delayed

Not surprisingly and as anticipated in our last blog, OSHA’s website was recently revised to note that OSHA is not currently accepting electronic submission of injury and illness logs and that it will extend the July 1, 2017 deadline by which certain employers are required to electronically submit such records.

We will continue to provide updates on the new recordkeeping rule as they emerge.

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One DOL Drug Testing Rule Officially Gone – Is OSHA Next?

On May 10, the Department of Labor officially nullified a rule passed during the Obama administration that limited states’ ability to require mandatory drug testing for individuals applying for unemployment benefits.

As we covered in an earlier blog, OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping rule (which is currently the subject of legal challenge) contains anti-retaliation language which OSHA has interpreted as preventing employers, except in limited situations, from implementing mandatory post-accident drug testing.

Although the nullified rule was issued by the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, one reading tea leaves might well predict that the principle at play may well extend to OSHA’s retaliation rule soon. (more…)

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OSHA Compliance – It’s Not Just About OSHA

Most businesses, particularly outside of construction or manufacturing, have probably not been the subject of an OSHA audit or may not have had much involvement with OSHA issues. This is due in large part to the small size of the agency. According to OSHA, with its state partners, there are approximately 2,100 inspectors responsible for the health and safety of more than 130 million workers. Add to the fact that there is no private right of action under OSHA, like the FLSA, and it is understandable why this may be the case.

However, there are other ways OSHA may become an issue for businesses. For example, if your business provides services at another entities worksite, the service contracts often contain provisions that the service provider shall comply with any and all applicable laws and they often reference OSHA specifically. Thus, failing to comply with OSHA standards could provide a basis for a party to terminate a contract even if the “real” reason for terminating the contract may be driven by something entirely different. (more…)

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OSHA Rescinds Fairfax Memo

In 2013, OSHA issued what is commonly referred to as the “Fairfax” memo, a standard interpretation letter that, among other things, permitted non-employee, union representatives to participate in the walk-through portion of an OSHA audit. Last year, the National Federation of Independent Business filed a suit challenging this interpretation. Upon OSHA’s notification that the Fairfax memo had been rescinded and that it had removed the guidance from the Field Operations Manual, the Federation withdrew its legal challenge.

It is welcome news for businesses and perhaps a sign of things to come for other outstanding legal challenges to new OSHA rules and past OSHA guidance including but not limited to electronic recordkeeping, anti-retaliation, higher penalties, silica, and OSHA’s Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers, etc.

Stay tuned…

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Silica Rule in Construction Delayed 90 Days

Paving stone saws working with power toolsOn April 6, OSHA announced it has delayed implementation of its new rule for 90 days which, among other things, cuts in half the maximum allowable level of silica dust exposure in the construction industry. The new compliance deadline is now September 23, 2017. OSHA stated that the delay will provide more time to train inspectors and educate contractors and others regarding compliance issues associated with the rule. According to OSHA, approximately 2.3 million workers are exposed to silica in workplaces.

Business, industry, and labor groups are challenging certain portions of the rule in the D.C. Circuit.

As with a number of other new rules, the ultimate fate of them is both a wait-and-see with the new administration as well as the judicial review process.

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“Volks” Rule. Going, going…

In the final days of the Obama Administration, OSHA finalized a rule that sought to restore what the agency called a “longstanding position” that employers must record and keep records of worker injuries or illness for a full five years or they could be cited.

The D.C. Circuit in a case involving Volks Constructors held that OSHA’s rule of citing employers for the full five year period for such violations exceeded its statutory authority and limited citations to the standard 6 month period.

Last week, the Senate passed a resolution to undo the “Volks” rule and now it will be sent to the President who has indicated that he will sign so it looks like just a matter of time before the “Volks” rule is finally gone.

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Timely OSHA Issues Discussed at the American Bar Association – OSHA Committee Meeting

Close-up of Hands holding pens and making notes at the conferenceThe ABA – OSHA Committee held its 2017 Midwinter Meeting in Jupiter Florida from March 7 – 10. It was well attended by OSHA practitioners across the country including many prominent government attorneys including: Susan Harthill, Deputy Solicitor for National Operations; Thomas Galassi, Director, Directorate of Enforcement Programs, OSHA; the Honorable Covette Rooney, Chief Judge, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission; and Heather MacDougall, Acting Chairperson, Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Many in the audience wondered how the new Administration might affect OSHA in the next four years. As expected, the typical response from the government side was business as usual with one government attorney commenting, “smaller but mightier.”

The various panels throughout the conference discussed timely OSHA issues (many of which have been covered in prior blogs here) including the new electronic recordkeeping rules, annual indexing of penalties, developments in process safety management, criminal prosecutions following workplace fatalities, targeted enforcement initiatives and anti-retaliation issues.

During one panel which discussed legal issues arising from OSHA inspections, there was a particularly lively exchange between management attorneys and OSHA representatives on two specific issues: 1) the right of non-employee, union representatives in a non-union worksite to participate in a walk-around inspection and 2) the right of hourly employees to have a management representative participate in an OSHA interview. (more…)

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Beryllium Rule Proposed to be Delayed (Again)

Beryllium in the Periodic TableThe United States Department of Labor announced another proposed delay of the rule entitled, “Occupational Exposure to Beryllium” from March 21 to May 20.  Beryllium is a material that can cause lung disease.  The proposed delay is intended to give OSHA an opportunity to further review and consider the rule in conformance with a recent White House memorandum which directed the Department of Labor to undertake a review of any new pending regulations and temporarily postpone the date that they would take effect.

The proposed extension of the effective date will not affect the compliance dates of the beryllium rule. Comments regarding the additional proposed extension will be accepted through March 13, 2017.  Comments can be submitted on this proposal at http://www.regulations.gov.

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OSHA’s Mandatory Reporting Rule

man filling out incident injury report form on laptopIn a prior blog we discussed OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping rule which requires, among other things, certain employers to submit injury and illness data.

As a reminder, employers are also affirmatively required to notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. A fatality must be reported within 8 hours while an in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or eye loss must be reported within 24 hours. (more…)

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