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Company contests fine for OSHA first aid violation: How did court rule?

An OSHA investigation determined that proper emergency services weren’t available at a worksite on the day a worker died on the job. The company contested the OSHA fine. What’s the outcome of the company’s appeal? 

PM Construction & Rehab L.P., a Texas pipe contractor, was changing a sewage drainage pipe at a worksite in Houston on Aug. 13, 2014, when one of its workers was fatally injured.

A hole had been cut in a pipe and the worker was directed to clean it from the outside. Against the supervisor’s instruction, the worker entered the hole in the pipe. No one saw what happened, but the employee was injured and died from his wounds.

OSHA issued three violations to PM for a total of $14,700 in fines.

The company contested all three violations. Two of them were specific to the pipe-work, but one violation was of OSHA’s First Aid Standard in Construction, 1926.50(c). OSHA said there “was no infirmary, clinic, hospital or physician reasonably accessible in terms of time and distance to the worksite that was available for the treatment of injured employees; nor was there any person with a valid certificate in first aid training available at the worksite to render first aid to employees.”

To prove a violation of 1926.50(c), OSHA must show that an infirmary, clinic, hospital or physician wasn’t reasonably accessible in terms of time and distance to the worksite.

OSHA argued the First Aid Standard clarifies that “provisions shall be made prior to commencement of the project for prompt medical attention in case of serious injury,” citing 1926.50(b). PM didn’t dispute that it didn’t make direct contact with any emergency services to have them on standby in case of an injury.

But, OSHA didn’t cite PM for 1926.50(b). The citation was for a violation of 1926.50(c) which addressed how close emergency help is to the worksite.

PM’s safety manager testified employees had company cell phones with which they could call 911. After the employee’s death, the safety manager drove from the worksite to a nearby medical clinic which took “just under two minutes.”

An administrative law judge (ALJ) of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission ruled that OSHA didn’t prove a violation of 1926.50(c). Emergency medical services were within a reasonable distance of the worksite.

Bottom line: Had OSHA cited PM for a violation of 1926.50(b), the violation might have stuck. The ALJ also found reasons to dismiss the other two violations which had to do with the pipe-work. So the entire $14,700 in fines against PM were dismissed.

(Secretary of Labor v. PM Construction & Rehab L.P., OSHRC No. 15-0014, 7/22/16)

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