Romanian-born Saul Herscovici, who owns Power Engineering and Manufacturing Inc., forced the IOSHA inspectors to obtain a search warrant from a district court judge before he would allow them to step foot in his facility, and even then made them wait until his attorney and a safety engineering consultant were present.
"I've lived under the Nazis and the Communists, and now I'm undergoing a third tyranny,' Herscovici allegedly told inspectors when he first denied them entry.
IOSHA was acting on an employee complaint about the safety of some of the machinery in the facility, which manufactures custom gear boxes for vehicles and manufacturing equipment.
As the two IOSHA investigators began their 25-minute inspection, Herscovici shut down operations and encouraged his employees to watch. "I want to make a big commotion here so my employees can see what the government's doing," a witness reported Herscovici as saying. Before the investigators could speak with employees, Herscovici sent them home for the day.
Herscovici claimed the inspection was not triggered by an employee complaint, but by Herscovici's efforts in 1993 to fight an IOSHA citation for a safety violation involving the hanging of an extension cord on a hook. IOSHA termed the violation "serious." Federal OSHA defines a serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.
Herscovici refused to drop his objections to the violation, eventually spending more than $10,000 in legal fees to fight it. Eventually, the violation was dropped following "a further review of the facts," according to IOSHA.
The incident turned Herscovici into an unrelenting critic of IOSHA through appearances at conferences and radio talk show programs. He even printed bumper stickers calling IOSHA "America's KGB."
His efforts have had some results, other than to annoy IOSHA officials. Herscovici's concerns prompted state-level discussions about improving relations between businesses and inspectors and examined the amounts levied for some fines.
Jim Meehan of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who was asked by Herscovici to be present during the inspection, said the investigators noted an oily floor around one machine. They also questioned the adequacy of the machine guarding systems and requested more information. He said one employee told the investigators, "If it wasn't safe, I wouldn't be working here."