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Companies have the right to require OSHA to get a warrant before allowing a safety and health inspection. But once OSHA has a warrant, continuing to prevent an inspection can be costly.
A court has ordered a Galva, IL, pet food production and packaging facility to pay almost $42,000 in fines for contempt and attorney’s fees in a dispute with OSHA.
On May 3, 2011, OSHA sought and received a warrant to inspect the All-Feed Processing and Packaging facility. OSHA wanted to conduct an inspection after receiving employee complaints of hazardous working conditions including excessive dust and noise. All-Feed had blocked two inspections in April 2011.
OSHA presented its warrant to All-Feed on May 4, 2011, and started an inspection. However, All-Feed refused to allow OSHA to finish the inspection by conducting representative personal samplings as authorized in the warrant.
The case eventually wound up in U.S. District Court, which found All-Feed to be in civil contempt.
OSHA wanted $500/day fines from May 4, 2011, until an inspection was eventually completed on Aug. 26, 2011.
All-Feed argued that it had agreed to an OSHA inspection on July 5, 2011. The court agreed with that, saying part of the reason the inspection wasn’t completed until Aug. 26 was because of delays on OSHA’s part. So the contempt period was limited to the 62 days between May 4 and July 5. At $500/day, the fine comes to $31,000.
The court also ordered All-Feed to pay $10,964.95 for OSHA’s attorneys’ fees.
The Aug. 26 inspection resulted in $758,400 in fines against All-Feed, primarily for dust and noise violations. That matter is still unresolved.
The company has been inspected 11 times since 2000, with OSHA finding more than 70 violations.
All-Feed also posted videos on YouTube calling OSHA the “oppression of American business.”
The company took down the YouTube videos, but its own website still states that OSHA “has been knocking on our door consistently for the better part of the last decade, harassing and falsely accusing us of providing a ‘dangerous workplace.’ They have fined us beyond any reasonable measure.”
The web post goes on to call the OSHA fines against All-Feed “cruel and unusual,” and says the agency is “bullying us into submission without any cause or justification.”
Many attorneys who represent companies in legal disputes with OSHA advise employers to be ready for OSHA inspections and not refuse an inspector to enter. Reason: Why start off on a bad foot with an agency that has the ability to fine you up to $70,000 for each violation?
Do you think it was a bad idea for All-Feed to refuse the inspection? Let us know what you think in the comments below.