OSHA Heats Up
The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Commission (“OSHA”), David Michaels, has been letting employers know that the cooperative dialogue of the Bush OSHA chapter is over – to some extent.
First, the penalties. The new look-back period for repeat and serious penalties is five years (until recently it was three years). Hence a $7,000 penalty can be increased by 10% if the employer was cited in the past five years. And a repeat citation can be issued where the employer was cited up to five years ago. In a related change, area directors can only reduce a penalty by 30%; to go beyond that the file will have to be reviewed by the OSHA Regional Administrator.
Second, there is the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). In four situations OSHA will go after employers who demonstrate indifference to OSHA obligations: a) a fatality or catastrophe situation, b) an industrial operation or process that exposes employees to severe occupational hazards, c) employee exposure to severe occupational hazards, and d) all prior egregious enforcement actions. Any employer whose case meets falls within one or more of these circumstances gets a re-inspection (regardless of any abatement verification from the employer) and possible scrutiny at some or all of its related facilities. OSHA will also make sure the company’s head office is fully apprised of the enforcement action.
Third, OSHA is taking its native language training policy seriously, and has reaffirmed that if an employee’s first language is other than English and he does not speak, read, or comprehend English, he must be trained in a language he does understand. OSHA will compare employer safety training communications with other communications; if, for example, an employee handbook is in English and Spanish, the agency will view English-only safety training as out of compliance.
Although the leadership of the agency has been sending these strong enforcement messages to the public since April, keep in mind that district offices are still pragmatic and willing to work you if a citation or other issue confronts you.