During the Obama Era, OSHA sharpened its enforcement teeth considerably by rewriting policies to characterize more violations as repeat and willful, and by significantly increasing its civil penalty authority. Now, OSHA violations characterized as Repeat or Willful carry penalties up to approx. $126,000 each. But what are Repeat and Willful violations? And what are these “Egregious” (or per-instance) citations OSHA has been issuing more and more often that lead to multi-million dollar enforcement actions?
This webinar covered the legal standard for Repeat, Willful and Egregious violations, the circumstances most often associated with them, the consequences for receiving them, and how OSHA’s enforcement policies have resulted in significant increases in the frequency with which we see them.
The state of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, is perhaps the most aggressive and enforcement-heavy approved state OSH Program in the nation. California employers face a host of requirements that other employers around the country do not. Likewise, the Cal/OSHA inspection and appeal process creates several unique landmines for California employers.
Of particular significance, in the coming year, California employers can expect an uptick in Cal/OSHA penalties as result of two significant changes, one adopting higher maximum civil penalty authority, and the other changing how the agency finds and cites violations characterized as Repeat.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently issued an opinion granting OSHA the ultimate leeway to characterize citations as Repeat. The case involved a Repeat excavation-related OSHA citation issued to Triumph Construction Corp. in 2014. OSHA based the Repeat characterization on a prior violation of the same excavation standard confirmed against Triumph from 2009.
Triumph asserted to the OSHRC Administrative Law Judge and to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that the Repeat citation was not appropriate because the amount of time that had passed from the original 2009 citation to the new 2014 alleged violation (nearly five years) was outside OSHA’s stated Repeat look-back policy in its Field Operations Manual. The OSHA Field Operations Manual in effect in 2014 was the 2009 version, which provided for a three year look-back period to find prior violations to serve as the basis for a Repeat violation.
In a 2016 update to the Fields Operations Manual, the Obama Administration expanded the Repeat look-back period to five-years. Regardless what the FOM said, the Triumph case implicated broader issues of whether OSHA’s policy created an strict statute of limitations for the Repeat look-back and whether OSHA has the authority, on a whim, to change enforcement policies like the Repeat look-back period without rulemaking or legislation.
The ALJ upheld the Repeat citation, and on appeal, the Second Circuit in Triumph Construction Corp. v. Sec. of Labor (Docket No. 16‐4128‐ag, March 14, 2018), held that because neither the OSH Act nor any regulations promulgated under the Act mandate or restrict any look-back time period for Repeat violations, OSHA was not bound by its own stated policy. OSHA has the discretion, in other words, to search an employer’s citation history as far back as it wishes to identify any prior substantially similar violations to serve as the basis for a present “repeat” violation. Continue reading →