Court Affirms OSHA’s Authority to Subpoena Workers’ Comp Co.

May 12, 2011
OSHA’s subpoena requesting inspection and report documents from Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co. associated with a fatal grain engulfment has been upheld in a U.S. district court.

Alex Pacas, 19, and Wyatt Whitebread, 14, lost their lives and another worker was injured in July 2010 when they were engulfed by corn in Haasbach LLC’s grain elevator in Mount Carroll, Ill. OSHA issued the company with 25 citations and $555,000 in proposed fines. A separate Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation found that Haasbach violated the Fair Labor Standards Act’s Child Labor standards.

Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co. completed reports and inspections for Haasbach following the fatal incident and fought OSHA’s subpoena requesting this documentation. Grinnell Mutual contended that the subpoena would discourage businesses from allowing insurers to conduct safety inspections if the reports can be used against a business during later litigation or OSHA enforcement proceedings. The court ordered that the records be given to OSHA.

“The court affirmed OSHA’s authority to obtain relevant information from an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company. This is not surprising legally, but it does illustrate that workers’ compensation and OSHA are not separate worlds divorced from each other,” said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. “Workers’ compensation loss control activities overlap with OSHA’s efforts to bring about safe and healthful workplaces, and in order to achieve a safe and healthful working environment for all Americans, all efforts of business, insurance, labor and government must move forward together.”

The court ruled that OSHA has jurisdiction to investigate the workplace fatalities and has the authority to require the production of relevant evidence and the ability to issue a subpoena to obtain that evidence. The requested documents, which included copies of site safety inspections, applications for insurance coverage for the site and correspondence between Grinnell Mutual and Haasbach concerning the site, were found to “reasonably relate to the investigation of the incident and the question of OSHA jurisdiction,” according to the decision.

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