Legal

What to Do When OSHA Comes Knocking

By Jon Hyman

Mar. 4, 2015

News broke over the weekend of a fatality at a local manufacturing plant. Undoubtedly, the Occupation Safefty and Health Administration was on the scene to unravel what happened.

Injuries or fatalities aren't the only reasons OSHA might arrive at your door. It might have received a complaint from a current or former employee. It might a random investigation. You might be part of a targeted industry. Or, it could be a follow-up from a prior investigation.

Regardless, when OSHA arrives, whatever the reason, your personnel needs to know that the first call should be to your employment lawyer. Unless the investigator has a search warrant or subpoena, he or she has no right to enter your business, no matter what he or she says to bully through your door.

OSHA is not your friend. It is not there to give you an atta-boy on workplace safety. It is there to find violations and levy fines to make money for OSHA. This is not cynicism; this is fact. And once it is through your door, everything becomes fair game, no matter the reason for the investigation.

OSHA's fines range from a maximum of $7,000 for each serious violation, and a maximum of $70,000 for each willful or repeat violation. Trust me, these numbers add up quickly.

What is OSHA looking for? Here is the agency's Top 10 list, right from its website:

  1. Fall Protection
  2. Hazard Communication
  3. Scaffolding
  4. Respiratory Protection
  5. Lockout/Tagout
  6. Powered Industrial Trucks
  7. Electrical – Wiring Methods
  8. Ladders in Construction
  9. Machine Guarding
  10. Electrical – General Requirements

If you are fortunate enough not to have OSHA in your facility, use the time to conduct a top-to-bottom safety audit. Call a workplace safety expert. Call an employment lawyer. Call someone knowledgable in this area to tell you what needs to be fixed before OSHA does it for you. And, if (when?) OSHA shows up at your door, call your employment lawyer to handle the investigation, mitigate the disruption, and, as best as possible, limit damage.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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