OSHA Goes After Employers Who Defy Safety and Health Regulations

March 11, 2003
The Department of Labor, perhaps responding to allegations from some quarters that OSHA has gone soft, announced a new enhanced enforcement policy today, aimed at employers who defy safety and health regulations and continue to expose their workers to serious hazards despite OSHA intervention efforts.

"The majority of employers in our country consider the health and safety of their workers a priority and strive to do their utmost to ensure their well being," said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "Still, there are those who, despite OSHA's enforcement and outreach efforts, continually disregard their very basic obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. This enhanced enforcement policy is meant for them."

OSHA's enhanced enforcement policy will focus on those employers who have received "high gravity" citations, issued when an employer's violations are considered to be at the highest level of severity.

The policy focuses on five specific areas: (1) follow-up inspections; (2) programmed inspections; (3) public awareness; (4) settlements; and (5) federal court enforcement. Workplaces that received OSHA citations with the highest severity of willful violations, multiple serious violations at the highest level of severity, repeat violations at the originating workplace, failure-to-abate notices, or a serious or willful violation associated with a fatality are subject to enhanced enforcement.

"No worker should be injured or killed on the job and no employer should ignore their responsibility to obey the law," said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. "This policy will focus on the high gravity violators and will put more tenacity and teeth in our enforcement practices. Our goal is to assure compliance and a safe workplace for all workers."

The following are some of the highlights of OSHA's enhanced enforcement policy:

Follow-Up Inspections: On-site follow-up inspections will be conducted at all establishments that received an OSHA citation with high-gravity willful violations, multiple high gravity serious violations, repeat violations at the originating establishment, failure-to-abate notices, or a serious or willful violation related to a fatality. OSHA area directors may also conduct follow-up inspections at other sites to verify abatement of previously cited violations where there is reason to suspect abatement may not have occurred.

Programmed Inspections: Normally, OSHA schedules programmed inspections based on objective or neutral selection criteria through the Site Specific Targeting (SST) process. OSHA, through this initiative, will begin to record the name of the overall corporate entity during all inspections; and prioritize, within the primary and secondary SST list, all facilities under the corporate identity that has been identified as receiving high gravity violations.

Public Awareness: For high gravity violations defined above, OSHA will mail a copy of the citation and notification of penalties to the employer's corporate headquarters. The agency will continue to issue local and national press releases on enforcement actions.

Settlements: OSHA will include, as needed, the following provisions in high-gravity violation settlement agreements: require employers to hire consultants to develop a process to change the safety and health culture in the facility; apply the agreement corporate-wide; include information on other job sites of the employer; require employers to report to OSHA any serious injury/illness that requires outside medical care and require employers to consent to OSHA inspections based on that report; and include language that the employer consents to entry of a court enforcement order under Section 11(b) of the OSH Act.

Section 11(b) Summary Enforcement Orders: As appropriate, OSHA will apply to federal courts of appeal for orders summarily enforcing the citations under Section 11(b) of the OSH Act. This includes citations that have been settled or have otherwise become final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. In those cases in which an 11(b) order has been entered and the employer remains noncompliant, OSHA will seek contempt of court sanctions.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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