Solicitor of Labor: OSHA Will Expand Powers to Pursue 'Bad Actors'

A new program that gives OSHA greater powers to enforce safety rules throughout a corporation, including possible jail time for corporate officers, is likely to keep expanding, according to Howard Radzely, the top lawyer at the Department of Labor.

Speaking March 2 at the Midwinter meeting of the American Bar Associations' Occupational Safety and Health Law Committee meeting in Key West, Fla., Radzely outlined a range of tools the agency is using to go after "bad actors."

"We are really trying to focus our resources on those employers who are consistently not following the law or consistently have health and safety problems," Radzely said. "In many areas we have tried to expand the tools that we use in particular for the most egregious actors."

Radzely explained how the department is using three tools to increase its enforcement powers against employers who have shown they are not complying with OSHA rules:

  • Expanded Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP)
  • Improving the process of referring OSHA violations to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution
  • Continued use of egregious, or instance-by-instance, citation enforcement actions

Radzely devoted most of his time to EEP, a program he said he began to push for soon after he arrived at the department 4 years ago because it entails corporate-wide settlement agreements.

"In my view it's a win-win for everybody," Radzely said. The agency obtains broader relief using fewer resources, workers have safer workplaces quicker and employers correct the problem with a minimal amount of litigation expense.

OSHA's EEP is "beginning to gain steam," he said. While there were 13 such cases filed in the past 2 years, there have been four in just the last 2 months.

The program has five elements:

  • Follow-up inspections by OSHA officials
  • Expanded inspections at other worksites belonging to the corporation
  • Obtaining the involvement of corporate headquarters
  • Enhanced settlement procedures
  • Section 11b powers enabling OSHA to hold the company and its officers in civil contempt should they fail to comply with OSHA rules

It is through Section 11b that OSHA could send company officers to jail, according to Radzely, who added that the Department of Labor has recently filed its first contempt proceeding under EEP.

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