Is the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) unfairly targeting multiple-location enterprise companies? Some say yes. National retail stores, grocery chains, manufacturers, and hotel chains would be potentially at risk for increased OSHA scrutiny if inspection /penalty trends continue. According to attorney Eric Conn at the law firm Epstein-Becker-Green, enterprise companies need to be aware of three recent OSHA enforcement trends in particular:
- A rise in follow-up inspections and Repeat violations at sister facilities within a corporate family
- OSHA’s increasing pursuit of company-wide abatement provisions in settlement agreements
- OSHA’s recent requests for enterprise-wide relief from the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
“Despite what seems to be settled law that abatement called for in an OSHA citation must be limited to the location where the violation was identified,” said Conn, “OSHA has recently begun to pursue enterprise-wide mandatory abatement. For example, OSHA has begun to request the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission grant such enterprise-wide relief in its rulings.”
Exhibit A: In a Jan. 18 press release, OSHA reported that the Department of Labor sought enterprise-wide relief at more than 60 separate locations of one enterprise — based on hazards issued at only two of its stores. OSHA reasoned that the employees at the approximately 58 stores that did not receive citations “were exposed or likely to be exposed to” similar hazards. (Both cases are currently contested.)
In an excellent blog on the subject, Conn and Alexis Downs wrote:
Often the first citation is issued with an innocuous characterization (e.g., Other Than Serious) and a low or no penalty, or OSHA agrees in a settlement to reduce more serious violations to lower characterizations and penalties. Employers must be careful to weigh the benefit of a low penalty citation or settlement against the potentially high cost of Repeat violations and costly company-wide abatement that may arise during follow-up inspections at related facilities.
This is a reminder that tools and operational processes for compliance should be enterprise-wide and should handle multiple facilities. Kudos to Conn & Downs — despite surnames that seem ripe for a comedian’s arsenal of jokes about lawyers — for a great post and their part in what is a very good blog on hazards, workers and safety.
Ed.: Join us this week at PCB Chat, where Kal will moderate a chat on MSDS management, raw material disclosure compliance and product stewardship. The chat takes place March 8 from 2 to 3 p.m. Eastern at Printed Circuit University. There is no cost to participate.