Safety and OSHA News

3 current OSHA enforcement areas and what they have in common

The head of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs recently laid out three areas which the agency is currently focusing on. At first glance, they may not seem to have much in common, but they share one detail regarding OSHA enforcement.

OSHA’s Tom Galassi talked about these three areas at his presentation to the American Bar Association’s Occupational Safety and Health Law Meeting in Tucson, AZ (as reported by attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw LLP attending the conference):

Heat stress

In 2013, OSHA received 180 non-formal employee complaints about heat and conducted 34 fatality inspections. In all, 266 inspections involved employee heat stress.

OSHA doesn’t have a federal standard on heat stress, but two state safety programs do: California and Washington.

California just extended its heat stress regulations for outdoor workers. Each day an employer doesn’t provide an outdoor worker with a recovery period as required, the company will have to pay the employee for an additional hour of work. Recovery periods last at least five minutes and may be taken whenever employees feel they need one.

Despite federal OSHA not having a similar heat stress regulation, the agency has issued dozens of violations using the General Duty Clause (GDC) for heat stress situations.

Workplace violence

OSHA has issued three workplace violence citations under the GDC this year. Another 29 workplace violence inspections are making their way through the system.

Galassi said the following types of employers should make sure they have workplace violence plans:

  • retail businesses that are open at night
  • healthcare facilities, and
  • social services.

In 2012, an OSHA directive outlined the reasons why inspectors would review an employer’s workplace violence prevention efforts — if:

  • workplace violence results in a worker fatality or three or more hospitalizations
  • an employee files a workplace violence complaint, or
  • the employer is in an industry with known risk factors for workplace violence.

An example of an OSHA fine for workplace violence: A robber dowsed a convenience store clerk with gasoline and set her on fire. She died days later after receiving serious burns on 40% of her body. OSHA inspected the store and three co-owned locations, and issued $19,600 in GDC fines for failing to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause serious injury or death, in this case, workplace violence.

Ergonomics

OSHA expects to conduct about 240 ergonomics inspections this year. The focus continues to be on nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.

This is another area in which OSHA has issued GDC violations over the years, despite the repeal of the ergonomics standard in 2001.

By now you’ve noticed the common element among these three areas: OSHA doesn’t have specific standards for heat stress, workplace violence and ergonomics, so it uses the GDC to issue fines.

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