Pres. Trump’s Latest Effort to Limit Federal Agency Guidance – Two New Executive Orders

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta B. Lashkari

Late last year, on October 9, 2019, President Trump issued two Executive Orders (“EOs”) that could have a dramatic impact on the way OSHA and other executive agencies operate:

  1. Executive Order 13891, the Executive Order on Promoting the Rule of Law Through Improved Agency Guidance Documents (Guidance Documents EO); and
  2. Executive Order 13892, the Executive Order on Promoting the Rule of Law Through Transparency and Fairness in Civil Administrative Enforcement and Adjudication (Transparency EO).

These EOs were designed to, according to the President:

“protect Americans from out-of-control bureaucracy and stop regulators from imposing secret rules and hidden penalties on the American people. . .”

In a nutshell, the Guidance Documents EO mandates that the public be provided with an opportunity to comment on proposed guidance and interpretive documents (similar to what is required under the Administrative Procedures Act for rulemaking).  It requires notice and publication of guidance, and the creation of a comprehensive online database where all such guidance must be housed and easily searched.

The Transparency EO focuses on agency enforcement actions.  Most significantly, it requires agencies to provide all parties potentially subject to an enforcement action the opportunity to engage with the agency over the merits of the action prior to commencement of the enforcement action. It also:

  1. prevents agencies from enforcing standards that are not public and that would cause unfair surprise to the regulated entity (i.e., no enforcement relying on guidance documents that are not created and maintained pursuant to the Guidance Documents EO);
  2. requires the publication of any potential new or expanded jurisdiction in the Federal Register;
  3. mandates the development of procedures for encouraging voluntary self-reporting in exchange for penalty reductions; and
  4. requires that agencies adhere to standards in the Paperwork Reduction Act when asking regulated parties for information without a formal subpoena or investigative demand.

The two new Executive Orders align with the President’s business-friendly agenda, making it more difficult for regulators to engage in backdoor rulemaking (i.e., supplementing or changing regulations via the issuance of guidance documents developed without public input), and easier for businesses to keep track of the regulatory requirements with which they must comply, and to head off enforcement actions before they begin.

How will the Executive Orders change the OSH regulatory landscape, and what should employers expect next? Continue reading

BREAKING – CSB Issues Final Accidental Release Reporting Rule

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta Lashkari

Last week, on the day of a federal district court-mandated deadline — Wednesday, February 5, 2020 — the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (the CSB) announced its Final Rule on Accidental Release Reporting. The CSB posted a prepublication version of the Final Rule last week, on February 5th.  The official version should be published in the Federal Register within the next few days.

As we previously reported, on December 12, 2019, the CSB issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for its new reporting rule, which set out the circumstances when facility owners and operators are required to file reports with the CSB about certain accidental chemical releases and what must be communicated in the reports.Picture1

As stated in the NPRM, the purpose of the rule is “to ensure that the CSB receives rapid, accurate reports of any accidental release that meets established statutory criteria.”

The rule requires owners and operators of stationary sources to report accidental releases that result in a fatality, a serious injury, or substantial property damage to the CSB within eight hours.  The specific information required to be provided in the accidental release report includes:

  1. A brief description of the accidental release;
  2. Whether the release resulted in a fire, explosion, death, serious injury, or property damage;
  3. The number of fatalities and/or serious injuries, and the estimated property damage at or outside the stationary source;
  4. The name of the material involved;
  5. The amount of the release; and
  6. Whether the accidental release resulted in an evacuation order impacting members of the general public and other details associated with the evacuation.

Issuance of the CSB’s reporting rule has been a long time coming.  Although the CSB did not become operational until 1998, its enabling legislation – the Clean Air Act Amendments – was enacted in 1990.  That statute, from nearly thirty years ago, expressly required the agency to issue a rule governing the reporting of accidental releases to the CSB.  Although the CSB submitted an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Chemical Release Reporting in 2009, that effort died on the vine.  Accordingly, the CSB has never had its own reporting rule, relying instead on other sources to receive incident information.  In February 2019, however, Continue reading

How Employers Should Respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

By Kara M. Maciel and Beeta B. Lashkari

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“2019-nCoV” or “coronavirus”) is a respiratory illness that, with its spread to the United States, is raising important issues for employers.  This guide explains the outbreak, the legal implications of it, and how employers should be responding now to employees who might have the virus, are caring for affected family members, or are otherwise concerned about their health in the workplace.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

First detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 2019-nCoV is a respiratory virus reportedly linked to a large outdoor seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.  However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring.  At this time, it is unclear how easily the virus is spreading between people.  Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, runny nose, headache, sore throat, and the general feeling of being unwell.  The incubation period is approximately 14 days, during which time an individual may see no symptoms but may still be contagious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reports that an ongoing investigation to determine more about this outbreak is underway, that the situation is rapidly evolving, and that more information will be provided as it becomes available.

As of January 30, 2020, there have been approximately 8,100 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in many countries, including in the United States.  On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (“WHO”) declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”  On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency for the United States to aid the country’s healthcare community in responding to 2019-nCoV.  Additionally, on the same day, the President of the United States signed a presidential “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.”

Legal Implications for Employers

With the presence of coronavirus in the United States, employers must be vigilant in complying with the various labor and employment laws implicated by the virus.

Continue reading

CSB Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for New Accidental Release Reporting Rule

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta B. Lashkari

Earlier this week, on December 12, 2019, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for its long-awaiting chemical incident reporting rule, which sets out the circumstances when facility owners and operators are required to file reports with the CSB of accidental chemical releases and what must be communicated in the reports.

As stated in the NPRM, the purpose of the rule is “to ensure that the CSB receives rapid, accurate reports of any accidental release that meets established statutory criteria.”

If promulgated, the rule would require owners and operators of stationary sources (chemical facilities) to report  accidental releases that result in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage to the CSB within four hours.  The proposed rule also identifies the specific information required to be included in the accidental release report:

  1. A brief description of the accidental release;
  2. Whether the release resulted in a fire, explosion, death, serious injury, or property damage;
  3. The number of fatalities and/or serious injuries, and the estimated property damage at or outside the stationary source;
  4. The name of the material involved;
  5. The amount of the release; and
  6. Whether the accidental release resulted in an evacuation order impacting members of the general public and other details associated with the evacuation.

Importantly, recognizing that some or all of this information may not be known within four hours of an accidental release, the CSB decided to  include the qualifier — “if known” — for much of the information that would be required in the report.

If, however, the owner/operator submits a report to Continue reading

EPA Sends Final RMP Rollback Rule to OMB for Review

By Micah Smith, Eric J. Conn and Beeta Lashkari

Last week, on September 12, 2019, EPA sent its Final RMP Rollback Rule to the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) for pre-publication review.  The rule is expected to roll back many of the Obama-era RMP Amendment Rule that added to and enhanced numerous RMP requirements, which was finalized and published in the Federal Register three days before President Trump’s Inauguration.  

This new near-final RMP Rollback Rule comes after a long and tortured rulemaking and litigation history in which President Obama’s EPA rushed out the RMP Amendments Rule, President Trump’s EPA attempted to delay the RMP Amendments Rule, those attempts were defeated in federal court, and then EPA quickly finalized the current rulemaking with anticipated roll-backs.  Here is a quick summary of that history: Continue reading

Responding to OSHA 11(c) Retaliation Charges, Employee Safety Complaints, and Rapid Response Investigations

By Lindsay A. DiSalvo and Beeta B. Lashkari

When OSHA receives a complaint related to worker safety and health or a severe injury report, one action by OSHA is to give the employer an opportunity to respond before it takes the more extreme action of opening an inspection.  In addition, when OSHA receives an allegation of retaliation, it must provide the employer a chance to explain why the adverse employment action of which it is accused was legitimate or did not occur as alleged.  These responses are an opportunity for the employer to avoid an inspection or litigation of a retaliation claim.  A strong response could assuage OSHA’s concerns and resolve the complaint in a favorable manner for the employer.  However, these responses can also create a written record of admissions to which OSHA can hold the employer accountable, and any supporting documentation may be closely scrutinized and used to create liability.

Thus, employers must ensure there is a procedure in place for managing and developing the responses to these situations, and be strategic about the information they share with OSHA in the response.  We are pleased to share the following tips and strategies for how to effectively address such complaints.

Whistleblower Complaints

To start, although OSHA enforces whistleblower standards under 22 different statutes, the agency receives most of its retaliation claims (over 62%) under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. Section 11(c) prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who in good faith attempt to exercise a worker safety-related protected right under the law.

While the vast majority – about 71% – are either dismissed by OSHA or withdrawn by the employee, the sheer number of complaints OSHA receives, and the fact that nearly 30% of them do end in favor of the employee, should be more than motivation for employers to thoroughly address each one filed against them.  This is particularly true because, under Section 11(c), employees can be entitled to substantial remedies, such as Continue reading

OSHA’s New Emphasis Program for Fertilizer Grade Ammonium Nitrate and Anhydrous Ammonia

By: Aaron R. Gelb and Beeta B. Lashkari

On September 25, 2018, OSHA announced the launch of a new Regional Emphasis Program (REP) to address the hazards from exposure to fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN) and agricultural anhydrous ammonia.  The REP, effective October 1, 2018, covers the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas in OSHA Region VI, and Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska in OSHA Region VII.  OSHA will commence enforcement activities on January 1, 2019, after a three-month period of education and prevention outreach.  FGAN REP_2Generally, enforcement activities will include the inspection and review of: (1) production operations and working conditions; (2) injury and illness records; (3) safety and health programs; and (4) chemical handling and use.  OSHA’s decision to initiate a new REP covering two regions and seven states is yet another reminder that the agency is continuing full-speed ahead with enforcement efforts.  While many anticipated that the Trump administration would retire OSHA’s national, regional and local emphasis programs, that has not happened.  To the contrary, OSHA continues to implement the same number of enforcement emphasis programs as at the end of the Obama administration.

What prompted OSHA to act now?

On April 17, 2013, a fire and explosion involving FGAN occurred at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, resulting in at least 14 fatalities.  While OSHA and the West Fertilizer Company ultimately reached a settlement, OSHA initially issued more than 20 citations, including several under Section (i) of its Explosives and Blasting Agents Standard.  Continue reading

Confounding Expectations, OSHA Enforcement in the Trump Administration Is On the Rise

By Eric J. Conn and Beeta B. Lashkari

Based on the rhetoric from the 2016 presidential campaign trail, it was reasonable for Industry to anticipate OSHA enforcement under a Trump Administration to contract significantly from the aggressive enforcement model employed by Pres. Obama’s OSHA.  Informed by the enforcement philosophies of past Republican administrations, the expectation was that a Pres. Trump / Sec. Acosta OSHA would scale back enforcement, favor compliance assistance, slash OSHA’s budget and staff to limit enforcement, retire national and local emphasis enforcement programs, revise enforcement policies that inflate civil penalties, and otherwise retool its approach to ease the regulatory burden on employers.

The reality, however, is that OSHA during the Trump-era has not backed down from its enforcement mission.  Quite to the contrary, relevant enforcement data reveals enforcement creep.  With still no Trump-appointed Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA in place nearly two years into the Trump Administration, career OSHA staff have considerable influence over the direction OSHA is steering, and that is why little has changed, and why change may not be on the near horizon.

Here are some of the key ways that OSHA enforcement is hardly distinguishable two years into the Trump Administration from OSHA during the Obama Administration:

  • OSHA’s FY19 budget is increasing by $5M from the end of the Obama-era (nearly $560M total)
  • The number of employees at OSHA dipped at the start of the Trump Administration, but it has restored to roughly the same as the end of the Obama-era (approx. 2,000)

  • The number of National and Local Emphasis Enforcement Programs remains essentially the same (approx. 150 Local/Regional Emphasis Programs and 9 National Emphasis Programs), including new or retooled NEPs for petroleum refineries and trenching
  • The total number of fed OSHA inspections actually increased from 31,948 in FY2016 to 32,396 in FY2017 (the first year over year increase in the number of inspections in nearly a decade)

Continue reading