Delinquent State OSH Agencies Adopt E-Recordkeeping; Calif. Employers to Submit 2017 Injury Data by Year End

By Andrew Sommer, Megan Shaked, and Dan Deacon

As we have reviewed previously on the OSHA Defense Report, federal OSHA’s Rule to “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” (aka the E-Recordkeeping Rule) requires small employers that operate in certain “high hazard industries” and all large employers to proactively submit their electronic injury and illness data to OSHA through a web portal – the Injury Tracking Application (“ITA”).

When federal OSHA promulgated the Rule in 2016, E-Recordkeeping Ruleit built into the Rule a mandate that all State Plans adopt substantially identical requirements within six months after its publication.  Implementation of the federal Rule, however, has been mired in difficulty from industry challenges, shifting guidance, informal changes, extended deadlines and mixed signals about the future of the rule as we transitioned from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.  As a result, numerous State OSH programs failed to initially adopt the rule.  After some headbutting with federal OSHA, almost all of the delinquent states, including California, have now implemented rules to “catch-up” to the federal OSHA data submission rule.

Delinquent State Plans Began Adopting E-Recordkeeping

In the midst of uncertainty surrounding federal OSHA’s E-Recordkeeping Rule, several State Plans delayed adopting state versions, even after OSHA made it clear that state plans needed to act soon.  While the majority of State Plans acted promptly to promulgate their own version of the E-Recordkeeping rule by the end of 2017, eight State Plans had not yet adopted the rule, including:

  • California (Cal/OSHA);
  • Washington (WA DLI, WISHA, or DOSH);
  • Maryland (MOSH);
  • Minnesota (MNOSHA);
  • South Carolina (SC OSHA);
  • Utah (UOSH);
  • Wyoming (Wy OSHA); and
  • Vermont (VOSHA)

Give the substantial number of State Plans that failed to comply with the Rule’s order, federal OSHA attempted to force covered employers in these State Plans to submit 300A data despite not being subject to the rule or federal OSHA’s jurisdiction.  Specifically, on April 30, 2018, federal OSHA issued a Continue reading

Fall 2018 Unified Agenda Forecasts Several Significant Employment-Related Regulatory & Deregulatory Actions

The Employer Defense Report

By: Mark M. Trapp and Aaron R. Gelb

On October 17, 2018, the Trump Administration released its Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (“Agenda”). Reports such as these, usually issued twice a year, set forth each federal agency’s forecast of its anticipated actions and rulemaking priorities for the next six-month period. It also provides estimated timelines for completion. This regulatory to-do list provides insight into the administration’s upcoming priorities. The current Agenda emphasizes the Trump Administration’s efforts to deregulate industry, but also includes several regulatory items of importance to employers.

Here is a summary, broken down by department, of the most significant employment-related items addressed in the Agenda.

Department of LaborFall 2018 Agenda_DOL_3

Wage and Hour Division

Joint Employment. The Obama administration took a much broader view of “joint employment” – situations in which a worker may be considered an employee of two or more separate employers. Following the lead of the…

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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

Free In-Person OSHA and Labor & Employment Client Briefing in Chicago – September 25, 2018

Join Conn Maciel Carey for an In-Person OSHA and Labor & Employment Briefing in Chicago on Tues., Sept. 25, 2018, and stay for a reception to celebrate the launch of our Chicago Office.

This complimentary program will feature panel discussions with representatives from EEOC, NLRB, and OSHA addressing key policy trends and regulatory developments.  They will be joined by senior corporate counsel from multinational corporations and Conn Maciel Carey’s Labor & Employment and OSHA specialist attorneys.  There will also be moderated breakout roundtable sessions covering issues of concern to various industry segments.


Agenda

1:00 PM – Registration and Networking
1:30 PM – OSHA Panel
  • Angie Loftus (OSHA Area Director – Chicago North Area Office)
  • Nick Walters (Former OSHA Regional Administrator – Region 5) Continue reading

Trump Announces Nomination of Scott Mugno to Lead OSHA as Assistant Secretary of Labor

By Eric J. Conn

After months of rumors and speculation, this morning, October 30, 2017, the White House finally announced its choice for the role of Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA.  I am personally very pleased that nomination was Scott A. Mugno.

Scott presently serves as the Vice President of Safety, Vehicle Maintenance, and Sustainability for FedEx Ground.  In that position, he has been in charge of the safety and health mission for an organization with nearly 90,000 workers, across more than 588 workplaces, and a fleet of more than 58,000 trailers.  He has an impeccable reputation in the safety space as a great leader, a tremendous motivator for safety, a faithful believer in the safety mission, and a true safety professional.  For the past six years, Mr. Mugno has successfully curated FedEx Ground’s core principle of “Safety Above All,” which means that:

“no package [FedEx] could ever carry is worth jeopardizing the safety of one employee.”

The White House touted Scott’s qualifications for the position of OSHA’s chief administrator in a press release announcing his nomination:

“His responsibilities in both [of his Safety leadership positions at FedEx] included developing, promoting and facilitating the safety and health program and culture. Mr. Mugno was twice awarded FedEx’s highest honor, the FedEx Five Star Award, for his safety leadership….”

Scott has been a friend and professional associate for many years, and I believe his diverse background puts him in a unique position to be a dynamic and successful leader at OSHA.  In his current job, Scott is a Corporate Safety Director.  Previous to his FedEx Ground position, Scott was the Corporate Safety Director at FedEx Express in Memphis.  Prior to that, he had been a practicing regulatory attorney for both private employers and law firms.  Before that, he spent six years serving our nation as an attorney in the Army JAG corps.  The combination of all of these past experiences puts Scott in a unique position to successfully execute OSHA’s safety mission.

OSHA’s chief administrator has typically come from the ranks of other government roles, academia, or private law firms.  In OSHA’s history, rarely has the agency been led by someone who has served as Continue reading

Reporting In-Patient Hospitalizations to OSHA: Common Misunderstandings and Mistakes

By Eric J. Conn and Lindsay A. DiSalvo

The regulatory requirement at 29 C.F.R. 1904.39, OSHA’s Fatality and Serious Injury Reporting Rule, which requires employers to report to OSHA certain in-patient hospitalizations, may seem straightforward, but there are several nuances employers routinely miss that affect the determination whether a hospitalization is actually reportable to OSHA.

Although failing to timely report a reportable hospitalization can be cited, and could set up an employer for costly Repeat violations, over-reporting has its own significant consequences.  Reporting hospitalizations very often triggers an on-site enforcement inspection, and OSHA issues a citation at least 75% of the time it conducts an inspection (an even higher percentage for incident inspections).  Moreover, at least 85% of OSHA citations are characterized as Serious, Repeat or Willful, and OSHA’s civil penalty authority has skyrocketed by 80% in the past two years.  Accordingly, it is critical that employers understand the intricacies of what makes an employee’s visit to the hospital a reportable event, and conversely, what does not, so as to avoid unnecessary and costly reports to OSHA.

As we outlined in a prior article discussing OSHA’s updated Fatality and Serious Injury Reporting Rule, under the current reporting requirements, employers must:

“within 24 hours after the in-patient hospitalization of one or more employees [that occurs within 24 hours of the work-related incident] . . . report the in-patient hospitalization . . . to OSHA.”

This is a significant change from the prior reporting rule, which required a report to OSHA only if three or more employees were hospitalized overnight.  It was extraordinarily rare that a single workplace incident resulted in the overnight hospitalization of three or more workers, and so the instances of reporting under that rule were infrequent.  The new rule, however, requires a report to OSHA for the hospitalization of a single employee, which has opened the door to thousands more incidents that must be evaluated for possible reporting.

Although the current regulation has increased the number of employee hospitalizations that are being reported to OSHA, many of those incidents reported to OSHA did not actually meet the criteria for reporting, based on a very particular definition of hospitalization and a limited time period for when the hospitalization must occur.  In other words, many incidents are being reported to OSHA (effectively inviting OSHA to conduct a site enforcement inspection) that should not have been reported at all. Continue reading

Trump Admin. Pumps the Brakes on New OSHA Rules in its First Regulatory Agenda

By Eric J. Conn, Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Practice

President Trump was carried to the White House on promises (or threats) of rolling back government regulations.  At the CPAC conference this year, Pres. Trump’s Sr. Policy Advisor, Steve Bannon, framed Pres. Trump’s agenda with the phrase: “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning the system of regulations the President believes have stymied economic growth. OSHA regulations are apparently at the heart of this deconstruction.  Now, only half a year into the Trump Administration, we have seen significant changes to the OSHA regulatory landscape, from the Congressional Review Act repeal of Obama-era midnight rules, to a budget proposal that could shrink OSHA’s enforcement efforts and prioritize compliance assistance, to a series of Executive Orders that shift OSHA to a business friendly regulatory philosophy.

And now, the Trump Administration has issued its first “Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions,” and the path to “deconstruction of the administrative state” is clearer.  The spring Unified Regulatory Agenda explains what agencies like OSHA and EPA will undertake on the rulemaking front, and the shift in the Dept. of Labor’s regulatory agenda for rules and standards affecting workplace safety is more pronounced than ever.  The new Regulatory Agenda places a bevy of Obama-era regulatory priorities out in the cold.  Among them, new standards to address infectious diseases in healthcare, various chemical exposures, and other broad-based initiatives have been canceled or placed on the regulatory back burner.

Here’s a breakdown of what Pres. Trump’s first Regulatory Agenda reveals about OSHA’s future plans:

Controversial Rules Off the Table

To the relief of industry advocates who spent years wringing their hands over OSHA’s aggressive rulemaking agenda during the Obama Administration, the new Administration put many of the Agency’s previous plans on ice.  This set of rules will not see further action for years.

For example, a comprehensive rule addressing combustible dust, which has been in the works for nearly a decade, is off the table. This rulemaking was spurred by a recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board, and was pursued by top officials in the Obama-era OSHA.  The Trump Administration has removed it from the Regulatory Agenda.

Here are some of the higher profile OSHA rulemaking efforts that are now effectively dead in the water: Continue reading

Unions Leverage OSHA and other Dept. of Labor Enforcement as an Organizing Tactic

By Kara M. Maciel, Eric J. Conn & Lindsay A. DiSalvo

As the private sector continues to see a decline in labor union membership among employees, labor unions are struggling to remain relevant and recruit new, dues-paying members.  Traditionally, when a labor union begins an organizing campaign at a workplace, the federal agency at the center of the process is the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”).  The NLRB’s purpose is to protect the rights of workers to organize and to freely choose whether or not to be represented by a labor union.  Indeed, the NLRB is an intrinsic part of the election process, and the NLRB may also become involved in a union organizing campaign if, for instance, the union asserts that the employer has committed an unfair labor practice.

However, unions are more and more often engaging with or depending on the regulations of other federal agencies as a tactic to gain leverage during organizing campaigns.  There are numerous ways a union may influence the outcome of an organizing campaign by using federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) or the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the Department of Labor (“DOL”), to persuade employees to embrace the union, or to put pressure on employers to concede to union representation.

Taking OSHA as an example, an on-site workplace safety inspection, or even just the threat of an inspection, can impact an organizing campaign in a manner favorable for the union.  The threat of making an OSHA complaint or inviting OSHA into the workplace to conduct an inspection can put pressure on an employer to stand-down against a union’s organizing efforts, even if it does not believe a particular violative condition or safety hazard exists.  A safety complaint could spark an OSHA inspection and, with 75% of all OSHA inspections resulting in the issuance of at least one citation, the chances are high that the employer would have an OSHA enforcement action on its hands. Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s Workplace Violence Rules for Health Care Take Effect April 2017

By Andrew J. Sommer and Eric J. Conn

Effective April 1, 2017, a new California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (“Standards Board”) regulation at Title 8, Section 3342 requires certain employers in the health care industry to develop and implement a Workplace Violence Prevention Plan.  The passage of these regulations came after nearly two years of meeting and work within the Agency, and more than two years after the California legislature passed Senate Bill 1299, which instructed the Standards Board to implement these workplace violence regulations.

Rules Apply to Health Care Facilities

Senate Bill 1299 only directed the Standards Board to adopt regulations requiring licensed hospitals to adopt violence prevention plans to protect health care workers and other facility personnel from aggressive and violent behavior.  The regulations that were adopted by the Standards Board, however, apply not just to licensed hospitals, but more broadly to any “health facility,” defined as:

“any facility, place or building that is organized, maintained, and operated for diagnosis, care, prevention or treatment of human illness, physical or mental…to which [] persons are admitted for a 24-hour stay or longer.”

Additionally, the regulations apply to the following facilities regardless of their size or how long a patient stays there:

  1. Home health care and home-based hospice;
  2. Emergency medical services and medical transport, including services provided by firefighters and other emergency responders;
  3. Drug treatment programs;
  4. Outpatient medical services to the incarcerated in correctional and detention settings.

Immediate Requirement to Begin Reporting Violent Incidents

Beginning April 1, 2017, every general acute care hospital, acute psychiatric hospital and special hospital generally must report to the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) any incident involving Continue reading

Court Denies Motion to Stay OSHA’s Enforcement of Anti-Retaliation Elements of E-Recordkeeping Rule

By Eric J. Conn

By Law the Anti-Retaliation Provisions of OSHA’s New Electronic Recordkeeping Rule Become Effective December 1st — Tomorrow!

On November 28, 2016, the federal district court Judge in the Northern District of Texas hearing Industry’s legal challenge to the anti-retaliation portions of OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping rule (i.e., limits on injury reporting requirements, post-incident drug testing, and safety incentive programs), pi-rulingissued an Order denying Industry’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have prohibited OSHA from enforcing these controversial new provisions. The Court’s Order clears the way for the new provisions to become effective and enforceable as of December 1, 2016.

Accordingly, it is not only prudent but perhaps imperative that employers immediately evaluate their safety incentive programs; drug testing programs; management bonus compensation schemes; and injury reporting policies to determine whether they comport with the new rule.

The rule adds new language to OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping regulation at 29 C.F.R. 1904.35(b)(1):

“reasonable procedure for employees to report work related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. . . .  [A reporting procedure] is not reasonable if it would deter or discourage a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness.”

Because this language is so broad and vague, it is impossible to understand from the face of the rule what policies and conduct are required or prohibited.  OSHA acknowledged that, as well, and Continue reading

OSHA Issues Guidance on Recordkeeping Anti-Retaliation Rule – Even with the Fate of the Rule in Question

By Eric J. Conn and Dan C. Deacon

OSHA’s new electronic injury recordkeeping rule includes anti-retaliation provisions that create new employer obligations and prohibitions related to internal employee injury reporting procedures, and expands OSHA’s enforcement authority by introducing a vague new set of anti-retaliation provisions.  Particularly controversial is the impact of OSHA’s new rule on employers’ policies for post-injury drug testing, safety incentive programs, and executive compensation and bonusesRK Rule FRUntil very recently, employers have seen little guidance about what OSHA means by reasonable reporting procedures or what types of policies may violate the new anti-retaliation provisions.

On October 19, 2016, OSHA issued a Guidance Memorandum offering its interpretation of the vague, controversial anti-retaliation provisions of OSHA’s new electronic injury and illness recordkeeping rule.  The timing of OSHA’s issuance of the October Guidance is particularly noteworthy, given developments in the legal challenge filed by Industry plaintiffs in a federal district court in Texas (TEXO ABC/AGC, Inc., et al. v. Perez, Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-01998-D), which we have described in previous articles.  Specifically, just one week before issuing the Guidance Memo, OSHA deferred the enforcement effective date of the anti-retaliation provisions, for the second time, from November 1st to December 1st.  This second delay of the anti-retaliation rule was done at the specific request of the Texas judge overseeing the case, who is considering industry’s request for a Preliminary Injunction.

The Guidance is not unexpected.  Amidst growing frustration from Industry about the rule and its lack of clarity, OSHA promised last summer when it decided to first postpone the enforcement date from August 1, 2016 to November 1, 2016, to publish guidance explaining the new provisions.  Indeed, OSHA’s defense against Industry’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the rule is that there is no way Industry can show irreparable harm from the new rule because there was no way for employers to know what the rule actually prohibits and requires.

Before this Guidance Memo was released, OSHA had provided little understanding of precisely what Continue reading

FAR Council’s and Dept. of Labor’s Contractor “Blacklisting” Rule – Finalized and Promptly Stayed

By Eric J. Conn, Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice

Texas District Court Enjoins the Administration from Enforcing the Federal Government Contractor “Blacklisting” Provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council’s New Final “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Rule.

On August 25, 2016, the Obama Administration, through the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council and in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor, promulgated the final Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces regulation and parallel guidance from the Labor Department, which collectively federal contractors have unaffectionately dubbed the “Blacklisting Rule.”  far-article-1The cornerstone provisions of the final rule establish expansive new reporting obligations for contractors bidding on executive branch contracts with an estimated value exceeding $500,000. These contractors, along with subcontractors whose portions of the overall contract meet the $500,000 threshold contract value, must disclose all confirmed and alleged violations issued under 14 labor laws, including alleged OSHA citations, within the three years prior to a prospective contractor’s bid submission, regardless of the status of the citation or whether the citation has yet been upheld in a judicial or administrative review process afforded employers.  To be clear, under the final rule, all OSHA citations must be reported, even minor paperwork citations characterized as “OTS” (“other-than-serious”).

The final rule change the manner in which the rule applies to subcontractors.  Unlike the proposed rule, the final rule requires covered subcontractors to disclose violations directly to the Department of Labor, which will conduct a “responsibility determination” and return it to the subcontractor, who in turn will then be required to deliver it to the prime contractor.  The final rule also pushed back the mandatory disclosure date for subcontractors to October 25, 2017, a year after the disclosure requirements were set to begin for prime contractors.

The disclosure requirements for all contractors apply equally to related state labor laws, which sweeps in all citations issued under the 27 federal OSHA-approved state OSH programs administered by state occupational safety and health agencies such as CAL/OSHA.  Whichever contractor is awarded a covered contract must also disclose any old and new OSHA or other alleged labor law violation (referred to in the regulation as “administrative merits determinations”) during regular, bi-annual reports throughout the life of the contract.

Rule Challenged and Preliminary Injunction Granted

Barely before contractors had time to read the regulation and attendant DOL guidance, however, and prior to its first effective date of October 25th, a group of industry trade associations filed a legal challenge in a Texas federal district court to the rule and requested the court grant emergency relief by Continue reading

OSHA Promulgates Final Rule on ACA Whistleblower Complaints

The Employer Defense Report

WhistleblowerOn October 12, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA” or the “Agency”) announced that it had issued a Final Rule establishing procedures for the filing, evaluation, and litigation of whistleblower complaints under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).  The rule became effective on October 13, 2016.  It lays out time frames for the handling of retaliation complaints under the ACA and explains the different procedural steps in the process; namely, filing a complaint, investigation of the complaint by OSHA, appealing OSHA determinations, hearings before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and options for review of final determinations.  Much of the framework for ACA whistleblower complaints is similar to other whistleblower laws enforced by OSHA and will seem familiar to employers, but below are some of the highlights of the final rule of which employers should be aware.

Protected Activity and Types of Retaliation

The ACA was signed into law back…

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Employment Law and OSHA Concerns with Temps, Contractors, and Joint- and Multi- Employer Sites

By Eric J. Conn, Jordan B. Schwartz, and Lindsay A. Smith

Employers must beware as the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) cracks down on what it perceives as rampant misclassifying employees as contractors and shirking other responsibilities, such as safety training, because a worker is supplied by another employer.  With more and more unique employment relationships and multi-employer worksites, it is crucial to understand the complexities of how the DOL and its various enforcement agencies define the employment relationship and/or assign liability in these contexts.

It has long been a priority of the Obama Administration to treat more workers as actual employees of host employers in order to provide them with a litany of labor protections and benefits, even when these workers are not hired directly, may not stay long, and may not even consider themselves to be employees.  This enforcement philosophy affects businesses in numerous areas – such as wage and hour law and OSHA compliance – even when employers thought staffing through an agency or on an independent contract basis relieved them of many of these DOL burdens and liabilities.  Not only does this increase the cost of many temporary, contract and multi-employer arrangements, it also puts employers at great risk of costly DOL enforcement actions if they do not understand when they have the responsibility (as opposed to another employer) to satisfy certain terms of labor law compliance.

First and foremost to keep in mind, although an employer may classify a worker as an independent contractor or as a non-employee temporary worker, and their maybe contract documents that express that classification, that does not mean DOL takes the same view.  Indeed, as DOL sees it, most workers should be treated as employees.  Also, employers may have certain employment law and OSHA-related obligations and potential liability even for non-employees depending on the employers’ roles at multi-employer worksites or in joint-employer situations.

New ‘Joint Employer’ Standard

Outsourcing to a temporary or contract worker can be a great way for a company to take care of some tasks and may make more sense for the business, rather than hiring full-time workers to fill those gaps.  However, if the DOL finds under one of various legal tests that the business is a joint-employer of that worker with another company, then numerous legal obligations kick in vis-a-vis these shared employees (such as collective bargaining and mandatory dispute resolution) as well as significant exposure for your organization under various labor laws.

In the past few years, both state and federal agencies have been expanding the joint-employer definition. Continue reading

Nationally Recognized OSHA Attorney Micah Smith Joins Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Practice

Last week, Micah Smith, a prominent Washington, D.C. OSHA defense attorney, joined Conn Maciel Carey as Of Counsel with the national OSHA • Workplace Safety Practice Group.  Mr. Smith focuses his practice on occupational safety and health law.  He has extensive experience and expertise in handling complex OSHA matters, from Micah's head shotrulemakings to the full range of enforcement-related matters, such as fatality investigations and litigation of contested OSHA citations.

In welcoming Micah to the firm, the Chair of Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Practice, Eric J. Conn, said:

“Our national OSHA Practice Group continues to represent employers and associations in the most complex, high-profile OSHA matters of the day, so adding to our team an attorney of Micah’s caliber, experience, and record of extraordinary success for employers will be invaluable. Micah is known nationally for his handling of complex, process safety management inspections and litigation.  As OSHA embarks on a major rulemaking to reform the Process Safety Management Standard (and EPA advances an updated Risk Management Plan rule), we are even better positioned to help employers in this area with Micah now a part of our team.”

In describing his own practice philosophy, Micah explained:

“What I am most excited about in joining Conn Maciel Carey is that the attorneys here share my focus on working with employers to identify safety and health strategies that both increase employee safety and improve business performance.  I love advising clients on safety and health issues because this work matters.  Companies with good safety and health programs improve the lives of their employees every day, and I take great pride in helping my clients in this mission.  Whether helping a client improve a great program or helping a company that has experienced a tragic mishap, I always get to work toward making workplaces better.  And one exciting part of this is watching my clients improve their business performance as a direct result of improving their safety programs.

“I am also delighted to join such a strong bench of OSHA specialist attorneys here at Conn Maciel Carey.  There are so few true OSHA specialists in the country, so to have the opportunity to support this tremendous group will make practice in this field all the more enjoyable.”

Check out Micah’s full bio.

The Freedom of Information Act Amended: Process and Pitfalls

On June 30, 2016, President Obama signed into law the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-185, which made significant changes to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, et seq. (“FOIA”).FOIA Act FOIA can be a great tool for unlocking the federal government’s vast compilations of documents and information, which make it a great resource for business intelligence. But you also should be aware of FOIA’s pitfalls, including how your own business’s confidential documents and information can be disclosed to the public, including the media, if the federal government has them in its possession and they become subject to a FOIA request.

FOIA was enacted in 1966 and allows any member of the public to request access to government information without requiring a showing of a need or reason for seeking the information. FOIA was a revision of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 551, et seq. (“APA”). Congress saw that the APA was falling short of its original disclosure goals and that the original law came to be viewed more as a withholding statute than a disclosure statute. See EPA v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73, 79 (1973). Congress’s intent in enacting FOIA was to make the government’s records and activities available and transparent to the public with only a handful of express exemptions that the government could invoke to withhold documents and information from disclosure. Generally the exemptions prevent disclosure of information related to national security, law enforcement investigations, government personnel rules and practices, specific exemptions from other statutes, and trade secret, commercial, or financial information obtained from third parties such as individuals and businesses.

The federal government is a huge Continue reading

“Masters of Disaster” Podcast re: OSHA’s New Electronic Recordkeeping and Anti-Retaliation Rule

Earlier this month, Eric J. Conn sat down with Leona Lewis, the Founder of ComplyEthic, to discuss OSHA’s new  final rule to “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” for a new segment on ComplyEthic’s terrific Podcast — “Masters of Disaster.”  Here is a link to the interview on the podcast.

TheMasters of Disaster Podcast segment was entitled “All Sticks and No Carrots in Sight, OSHA’s New Injury Tracking Rule,” and featured a review of both the electronic injury data submission requirements of OSHA’s new rule, as well as the anti-retaliation and whistleblower elements of the rule.  Read more about OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping rule here, or check out our recent webinar on the subject.

 

MSHA Enforcement Trends: Most-Cited Standards of 2015 and Rules to Live By

The MSHA Defense Report

By: Justin M. Winter & Nicholas W. Scala

Mine operators can look to MSHA’s 2015 enforcement data to identify patterns in the most frequently cited safety and health violations, making it easier to avoid costly citations and possible long-term legal ramifications. Data on the top 20 cited MSHA standards are available for side-by-side comparison here, offering a better picture of the coming year’s trends.shutterstock_regulations

Some familiar patterns emerge from the data and mine operators should closely examine the top of the most cited list, including those for potential exposure to moving machine parts, housekeeping and machine guarding related regulations. Year after year, these are heavily cited standards because MSHA continues to press heavy enforcement to address them. At the same time, alleged violations related to these standards often carry more serious allegations regarding negligence on the part of operators. MSHA considers the operators “on notice” that these are serious and…

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As Retaliation Claims Rise, Employers Face New Challenges Under Employment, OSHA and Health Care Laws

The Employer Defense Report

Authored By:  Kara M. Maciel & Eric J. Conn

Whistleblower  As we discussed in a recent webinar, employers are facing an increased risk of defending a retaliation complaint as administrative policy changes and expansive federal laws make asserting these claims easier for employees.

Whistleblower and related-retaliation charges are on the rise throughout the country, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), tasked with fielding complaints under 22 laws, is also becoming more aggressive. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the anti-retaliation provisions of several laws, including Title VII and the ADA.  In addition, sweeping laws like the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are creating increased fodder for discrimination complaints.  Armed with increased financial resources, federal investigators now aim to be more receptive to complaints as part of what the EEOC and OSHA view as needed reforms of their whistleblower enforcement arm.

Claims on the Rise

Retaliation claims under…

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Article: California Supreme Court Ruling on Suitable Seating: Legal and Ergonomics Perspectives

By Andrew J. Sommer, Esq. and Brandy Farris Ware, PhD, CPE, CSSBB

A recent California Supreme Court ruling provides crucial new guidance on how courts should weigh the evidence in so-called “suitable seating” cases, which employee litigants are bringing under the state requirement that employers provide seats to workers where the nature of their work “reasonably permits” the use of seating.

This is a key emerging issue for the Golden State’s business community, with a new cottage industry of lawsuits stemming from a state appellate court decision several years ago allowing “suitable seating” litigation under the California Private Attorney General Act (PAGA). The ruling encouraged new lawsuits because penalties as well as attorney’s fees and costs may be awarded under PAGA.

The California Supreme Court handed down an opinion April 4, 2016 in response to questions posed by two federal lawsuits, setting out new ground rules for what actually constitutes “suitable seating” under the law. Suitable SeatingEmployers with locations in California are well-advised to evaluate their work environments in light of these latest developments and consider the need for workplace safety experts to assess their individual circumstances. Not only can such evaluations, based on the new Supreme Court guidance, help employers head off litigation (or at least reach a favorable outcome if sued), they also can lower other risk factors and costs like worker’s compensation.

The Court adopted a fact-based approach that depends not on the entire job, but on Continue reading

OSHA Unveils Controversial Final Silica Rule and Industry Gears Up For Challenges

By Kate M. McMahon and Eric J. Conn

OSHA has issued its long-sought – and heavily disputed – new regulation aimed at reducing worker exposures to crystalline silica dust, cutting the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) in half for general industry, construction and maritime activities.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials on March 21, 2016 cleared the rule, essentially green lighting  OSHA to move forward. With this regulation long represented as a top priority for OSHA, Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels took no time doing so, issuing the final rule only days after Silica Rule Image 2the White House gatekeeper OMB cleared it back to OSHA. Dr. Michaels said in the press release accompanying the rule that the existing limits on Silica dust are “outdated,” and added that limiting exposure to silica dust is essential.

“Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. Today, we are taking action to bring worker protections into the 21st century in ways that are feasible and economical for employers to implement.”

The soon-to-be-published final rule – effective 90 days from its imminent publication in the Federal Register – cuts the exposure limit on respirable crystalline silica in half for general industry, construction and maritime,Silica Rule Image making the new PEL 50 micrograms per cubic meter (50 µg/m³) of air, on a time-weighted average of exposure across the work day. The PEL, which is the core provision of the rule, was controversial enough considering the little return Industry sees from the reduction, as compared to the economic and technical difficulties involved. However, the new regulation also includes an “action level,” set at 25 µg/m³, which automatically triggers numerous ancillary requirements ranging from exposure controls to medical surveillance. OSHA justifies this action level because many workplace health experts believe that Continue reading

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from Conn Maciel Carey!

From all of us here in the national OSHA Practice Group at Conn Maciel Carey, to all of you, happy holidays and happy New Year.  We wish you a joyful and safe holiday season, and a 2016 filled with success.

We have so much to be thankful for as we close out our first full year at Conn Maciel Carey, and our first few months with the OSHA Defense Report blog. CMC Xmas Logo But most of all, we thank you for continuing to take time out of your busy day to read our articles here on the OSHA Defense Report blog.  Already just three months into the life of the blog, we have received so much positive feedback, and so many great comments, questions, and recommendations for new topics to cover, all of which gives us the energy and enthusiasm to keep the OSHA Defense Report fresh.

Please contact us if you have questions about any of the topics we have covered, or if you have ideas for other subjects we should be covering, and of course, if there is ever anything our national OSHA Practice Group at Conn Maciel Carey can do to help you or your company with OSHA law issues.

A Healthy Dose of OSHA Enforcement Coming to the Healthcare Industry

By Eric J. Conn and Kathryn M. McMahon

On June 25, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Enforcement Memorandum entitled: Inspection Guidance for Inpatient Healthcare Settings.  Health Initiative 1The Enforcement Memorandum expands the scope of inspections OSHA will conduct at hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities as part of an on-going enforcement effort targeting the healthcare industry.

OSHA’s Healthcare Enforcement Initiative

OSHA’s healthcare enforcement initiative covers “Hospitals” (NAICS 622) and “Nursing and residential care facilities” (NAICS 623). It requires all OSHA inspections (whether programmed or in response to an incident of complaint) in the covered industries to include an evaluation of the following five major hazards:

  • Ergonomics (i.e., musculoskeletal disorders from patient/resident handling);
  • Bloodborne pathogens;
  • Workplace violence;
  • Tuberculosis; and
  • Slips, trips and falls.

This initiative follows the April 2015 expiration of the Nursing Home National Emphasis Program, which also focused on similar hazards.

OSHA’s increased scrutiny of the healthcare industry can be attributed to Continue reading

OSHA Rule in FAR Clothing: The Government Contractor “Blacklisting” Rule

By Eric J. Conn

Following President Obama’s 2014 “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Executive Order (EO 13673) — commonly referred to as the “Blacklisting” Executive Order by government contractors — this Spring, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council in conjunction with the Department of Labor (DOL) issued proposed regulations and guidance implementing EO 13673. The companion proposals establish expansive new reporting obligations requiring disclosure of any OSHA citation issued — still just allegations — FAR 1within the three years prior to bid submission, as well disclosures of all other “administrative merits determinations” issued under 13 other labor laws. The proposals then require regular bi-annual reporting of the same data throughout the life of the contract.

Although the proposals are purportedly designed to identify and prevent “irresponsible” companies from obtaining federal contracts, because they cast such a broad net, based on mere allegations of violations, the rule’s likely effect will be to significantly intensify the scrutiny to which contractors will likely be subjected (and the costs they will need to bear to comply with the rule) without accomplishing the President’s objectives of ferreting out irresponsible contractors.

Specifically, the proposed regulations would require contractors bidding on executive branch contracts with an estimated value exceeding $500,000 to disclose any OSHA citation, regardless of the status of the citation or whether the citation has yet been upheld in the administrative review process afforded employers. All OSHA citations must be reported under the proposals, even citations characterized as “OTS,” or “other-than-serious,” the characterization OSHA applies to minor paperwork violations. The disclosure requirements apply equally to citations issued under the 27 state plan programs administered by state occupational safety and health agencies such as CAL/OSHA.

In addition to the disclosures contractors must make, prime contractors also must collect the same information from every subcontractor who has a contract or bid exceeding the $500,000 threshold (with the exception of subcontractors whose contract is for commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) goods or services).

The DOL guidance indicates that contracting agencies’ “responsibility” determinations will consider most heavily only those OSHA citations (or other labor law violations) determined to be “serious, willful, repeated, or pervasive.” While this limitation may sound good, applied in the OSHA context, it provides cold comfort to responsible contractors. A review of 2009 – 2013 OSHA enforcement data shows that the vast majority of citations issued — upwards of 85 percent — are initially characterized as serious, repeat, or willful. This means that Continue reading

OSHA’s New Injury & Fatality Reporting Rule: Time to Add OSHA to Your Speed Dial

By Eric J. Conn and Amanda R. Strainis-Walker

On New Year’s Day 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new injury and fatality reporting rule became effective, significantly revising the triggering events for reporting workplace accidents to OSHA under the Agency’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping regulations at 29 C.F.R. 1910.104, et seq.

New Injury and Illness Reporting Rule

The new regulations differ from the long-standing incident reporting rule in four ways:

  1. Lower the threshold for proactively reporting a catastrophic incident from the hospitalization of three or more employees to the hospitalization of a single employee;Reporting 3.JPG
  1. Add amputations (including partial amputations) and loss of an eye to the types of injuries that employers must proactively report;
  1. Introduce an internet portal for employers to submit reportable events; and
  1. Require publication of the reporting events on OSHA’s public website.

Requirements of the New Reporting Rule. The reporting rule has been long-referred to informally as the “Fat-Cat” rule because it requires employers to report to OSHA all incidents that result in an employee fatality (Fat) or a catastrophe (Cat). The new regulation redefines catastrophe. Historically, a catastrophe had been defined as an incident that resulted in the overnight hospitalization for treatment of three or more employees.

The Agency views the new report triggering events as indicative of serious hazards at a workplace. Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels explained that:

“hospitalizations and amputations [are] sentinel events, indicating that serious hazards are likely to be present at a workplace and that an intervention is warranted to protect the other workers at the establishment.”

In addition to lowering the threshold from three to one employee hospitalizations, OSHA also changed the definition of “hospitalization.” Historically, an employee’s overnight hospital stay triggered the reporting requirement. Under the new rule, whether the hospitalization is a reportable event turns not on whether the employee stays overnight, but rather, whether the employee is formally admitted to the “in-patient” service of the hospital or clinic. The visit, however, must involve medical care after the in-patient admission. A hospital visit only for observation or diagnostic testing, even if it involves in-patient admission, does not constitute a reportable event.

The concepts of “formal admission” and “in-patient service” seem to be causing significant confusion in the new rule’s early stages. While OSHA continues to Continue reading

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