A review board recently heard an appeal of an OSHA fine centered strictly on the amount the company would have to pay. The case involves the electrocution of a drywall installer.
The worker, employed by Monroe Drywall Construction, was part of a team installing drywall at a retail store in Panama City, FL, on Sept. 27, 2011. He was electrocuted after contacting exposed wiring as he was clearing an area where drywall was to be stacked.
OSHA issued violations with penalties totaling $6,600:
- a serious violation for not training employees in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions at the work site ($2,400), and
- a serious violation for not inquiring about the status of exposed circuit wires or warning employees of the electric shock hazard ($4,200).
Monroe appealed the case to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC).
An OSHRC administrative law judge affirmed the violations but reduced the total penalty to $600. The judge based his decision about the penalty on Monroe’s small size, good faith and history of violations.
The judge focused on Monroe’s “good faith belief” that it didn’t have an employment relationship with the workers at the site because they were independent contractors, not employees.
OSHA appealed this decision to the full OSHRC. The commission disagreed with the judge’s good faith finding. It noted “good faith” usually concerns an employer’s safety and health program, and its commitment to assuring a safe and healthful work environment. Believing that the OSHA regulation didn’t apply isn’t an act of good faith, the commission said.
The commission also noted that the record in this case didn’t contain any information about Monroe’s prior violation history. Given the gravity of the situation (electrical shock exposure) and the death that occurred, the commission said there was no reason to give the company a reduction for lack of violation history.
The commission set the following penalties: $2,100 for the first (as listed above) and $4,200 for the second, for a total of $6,300 — $300 less than OSHA originally determined, but ten times higher than the amount sent by the ALJ.
(Secretary of Labor v. Monroe Drywall Construction, OSHRC Docket No. 12-0379, 9/30/13)
Factors that reduce OSHA fines
OSHA and OSHRC look at various factors when deciding how much to fine a company:
- gravity of the violation
- employer’s size (number of employees)
- good faith, and
- history of violations.
Of the four factors, the one that receives the most weight is gravity of the violation. If the violation is related to death or serious injuries, the gravity of the violation is considered to be high, therefore there will be no penalty reduction for that factor.
However, as this case shows, reductions can still be given, even when there is a death, for the employer’s size.