OSHA appeals court's decision on citation practices

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is appealing an administrative law judge's decision regarding how it chooses to cite employers for safety violations.

Stockton, California, residents should keep a close eye on the case, as it could have far-reaching implications for how the federal agency regulates workplace safety, particularly with respect to thousands of federal employees working in this state. The decision could have a trickle-down effect on Cal/OSHA and other state-level workplace safety agencies as well.

Currently, OSHA's practice is to cite any and all employers the agency concluded could have corrected a dangerous workplace condition or rectified a violation of a safety rule. In practice, this meant that, often, general contractors at construction sites would find themselves being held responsible for the mistakes of their subcontractor, even if they neither caused nor knew about the violations. The agency's reasoning is that the general contractor maintains control of the construction project and is, thus, to some degree, responsible for the safety of the workers doing the labor there.

However, OSHA now finds itself appealing a decision from a judge stating that the general contractor cannot be held responsible for dangers to which the general contractor did not expose the affected employees.

While a change in OSHA's practice could make it harder for workers in some respects, fortunately, workers' compensation is available on a no-fault basis in California. This means that, in the vast majority of cases, a worker need only prove that they were injured on the job in order to collect compensation for medical bills and lost wages.

Source: Construction Dive, "Appeals court considers OSHA joint-employer ruling," Kim Slowey, Dec. 5, 2017.

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