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U.S. Eleventh Circuit Highlights Importance of Safety Training in Affirming Willful Violation of OSHA Standard

Author: H. Bernard Tisdale, Ogletree Deakins, Charlotte, North Carolina)

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently had the opportunity to remind employers not to ignore training employees on safety.  Martin Mechanical Contractors, Inc. v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor, No. 17-12643 (March 27, 2018).

In late 2015, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor was installing an HVAC system on the flat roof of a warehouse in Georgia. The installation was to take place adjacent to several unguarded skylights covered only with plastic sheeting. While the onsite foreman had fall protection equipment in his truck, the employees did not wear any fall protection equipment while on the roof. These circumstances ended in tragically: one of the workers fell through a skylight and died as a result of his injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited the employer for a willful violation of 29 C.F.R. § 1926.501(b)(4)(i) for failing to protect its employees from falls. The administrative law judge concluded the supervisor’s actions supported a willful classification in that he demonstrated a “reckless disregard for the safety of his crew.” The employer appealed.

To support a willful classification, OSHA must show either (1) the employer knew of the standard and consciously disregarded it or (2) it exhibited such reckless disregard for the employees’ safety that the employer would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard.  Evidently, the supervisor claimed ignorance of the law, and the court analyzed whether the willful classification could be supported under the second standard.

Air conditioner units (HVAC) on a roof of industrial building

The court of appeals was unimpressed by the employer’s arguments. The court noted the supervisor was well aware of the danger posed by the unguarded skylights in that he warned his employees to be careful around them. The supervisor also testified it was his practice not to use fall protection equipment on flat roofs. The supervisor neither instructed anyone to wear fall protection equipment nor provided his employees with the fall protection equipment he had in his truck. Thus, the Court concluded, while the supervisor did not know of the standard’s requirements, he exhibited such reckless disregard for employee safety that he would not have cared that the conduct violated the standard.

This is where all employers may want to take heed. The court went on to observe that the supervisor’s “unfamiliarity serves, if anything, only to underscore the inadequacy of [the employer’s] training program. To hold that such inadequacy—and the resulting unfamiliarity—precludes classification of a violation as willful would perversely allow [the employer] to use its ineffective training as a defense against OSHA’s most serious charge.” The court upheld the willful classification.

Needless to say, a willful citation can have far-reaching ramifications for an employer—from tort liability and criminal penalties for the injury or death to inability to secure future work. While training may seem trivial and time consuming, doing it just might prevent a willful citation and possibly save a life.

This article was originally published on the Ogletree Deakins website.

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About the Author

Mr. Tisdale has wide experience in general civil and employment litigation. This experience ranges from advising clients on preventive measures to avoid formal charges and lawsuits, and representing clients before the United States Court of Appeals, to handling individual employment discrimination cases before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the federal courts as well as handling wrongful discharge and other employment-related litigation in state and federal courts. He regularly represents employers on safety and health matters including advising and defending clients on OSHA compliance issues involving Federal OSHA and state plan states.  He regularly assists clients with contract disputes and non-compete and trade secrets advice and litigation. His experience also includes counseling clients on wage and hour compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act and performing compliance audits under the FLSA, drafting and reviewing employment contracts and employment

U.S. EPA’s Enforcement of the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule

By Dianne R Phillips, Holland & Knight

On March 28, 2018, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Project Notification indicating its plans to begin preliminary research to evaluate the EPA’s implementation and enforcement of the Lead-Based Paint Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP Rule). The RRP Rule, which is part of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, is intended to ensure that owners and occupants of pre-1978 “target housing” and “child-occupied facilities” receive information on lead-based paint hazards before renovations begin, that individuals performing such renovations are properly trained and certified, and that renovators and workers follow specific lead-safe work practices during renovations to reduce the potential for exposure to lead. Although use of lead-based paint in dwellings was prohibited after 1978, EPA estimates it is still present in approximately 30 million homes across the United States. The RRP Rule is intended to protect children and others vulnerable to lead exposure due to the health effects associated with lead poisoning.

Enforcement of the RRP Rule, along with the other lead-based paint rules, has been a priority of EPA. For fiscal year ending 2017, according to EPA’s Oct. 27, 2017 press release from October 2016 through September 2017, EPA finalized 121 civil settlements for alleged violations of one or more of the three lead-based paint rules–the RRP Rule; the Lead Disclosure Rule; and the Lead-based Paint Activities Rule for abatements–and filed three complaints for ongoing actions. EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice also prosecuted one criminal case involving violations of lead paint laws and finalized two Clean Air Act settlements that included lead paint abatement projects in local communities. The OIG Project Notification indicates that the “objective for this project is to determine whether EPA has an effective strategy to implement and enforce the lead-based paint RRP.” Only time will tell what is meant by that.

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About the Author

Dianne R. Phillips is an attorney in Holland & Knight’s Boston office who concentrates her practice in litigation, regulatory, energy and environmental law. As former assistant general counsel for Suez LNG North America LLC (now known as Engie North America) and its wholly owned subsidiary, Distrigas of Massachusetts LLC, Ms. Phillips was involved in all aspects of regulatory compliance for the nation’s oldest, continuously operating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal located in Everett, Mass., including safety and security. Her LNG experience includes advising clients with respect to specialized regulatory compliance under 49 C.F.R. Part 193 and NFPA 59A.

Surviving the OSHA Audit: Common Sense Solutions

Imagine for a moment it’s Monday morning. You’ve just arrived to work and you’re enjoying your first cup of coffee. Unexpectedly, you receive a call from the receptionist. The U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration (U.S. OSHA) has just arrived and they’d like to meet you to discuss a safety complaint they’ve received from an employee. Your day just got a little bit more complicated! So, what should you expect during the OSHA visit? What questions should you ask and perhaps more important, what should you avoid? What will OSHA want to see during their visit? Will they ask you for paperwork? Do you have that paperwork?

Within this book, respected OSHA consultant, David A. Casavant takes you behind the curtain and reveals exactly what happens during an OSHA inspection, rules for behavior during the audit and perhaps more importantly, what you can do now to comply with the often-complicated U.S. OSHA regulations. This essential guide simplifies complex regulatory law, provides commonsense strategies for compliance and should be included in every safety professional, risk manager, or attorney’s toolbox.

The author of the book, David A. Casavant is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Workplace Alliance, a 501(c)(3) not‐for‐profit organization dedicated to Health & Safety in the workplace. He is an authorized OSHA 500 & 501 trainer and in 2007, 2008 and 2010 his organization was awarded the prestigious Susan Harwood training grant from the U.S. OSHA. He has been a featured speaker at World WorkPlace, American Management Association, Rockhurst University, NeoCon, SkillTV, Total Facility Management Forum and the NFM&T conference. Additionally, Mr. Casavant has written hundreds of business related articles. His articles can be found in a number of trade publications including the Facility Management Journal, Buildings, PlantServices, SkillTV and Building Operating Management.

Soft cover, 313 pages
Copyright © 2017
ISBN 978-0-9987437-0-7

You can order the book through the American Society of Safety Engineers website.