The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor. It was established by Congress under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, signed by President Richard Nixon on December 29, 1970. Its mission is to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.
The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) is an independent federal agency that is not part of the Department of Labor or OSHA. The OSHRC is responsible for making decisions in contested cases of OSHA violations. Essentially, it serves as a court for disputes between the Department of Labor and employers regarding OSHA standards and regulations.
OSHA attorneys are usually labor law attorneys who deal with cases related to occupational safety and health. They often represent either employers or employees in cases involving alleged OSHA violations. Their duties can include:
1. Advising Clients on OSHA Compliance
OSHA attorneys can provide guidance on proper safety procedures, equipment maintenance, record-keeping, and employee training.
For instance, a construction company may seek advice on how to maintain compliance with OSHA’s fall protection standards. The attorney would then provide specific advice, such as recommending the appropriate fall protection equipment, instructing on how to properly train employees to use the equipment, and outlining the necessary record-keeping practices.
2. Representing Clients During OSHA Inspections
When OSHA performs a worksite inspection, having an attorney present can be invaluable. The attorney can ensure that the inspector follows correct procedures and doesn’t exceed their authority. For example, if OSHA were to inspect a factory following a reported injury, the attorney could accompany the inspector, answering questions on behalf of the employer and ensuring that the inspection remains within the scope of the incident reported.
3. Defending Clients Who Have Been Issued OSHA Citations
If a business receives a citation, an OSHA attorney can defend the business during the legal process. For instance, a citation might be issued for allegedly failing to provide proper protective equipment. The attorney would then gather evidence to prove that the company did, in fact, provide the necessary equipment and that employees were trained in its use.
4. Negotiating Penalties and Fines Associated with OSHA Citations
In cases where a violation has occurred, an attorney can help negotiate the penalties and fines. They could, for example, argue that the proposed fine is excessive given the company’s size, the gravity of the violation, its good-faith efforts to comply, and its history of violations. They might also negotiate for more time to correct the violation before additional fines are imposed.
5. Representing Clients in Cases Before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
If a company decides to contest an OSHA citation, the case may end up before the OSHRC.
For example, a manufacturing plant may contest a citation claiming that they failed to properly guard machinery, arguing that the guards were, in fact, adequate and met OSHA standards. The attorney would represent the company at the hearing, presenting evidence, calling witnesses, and making legal arguments to support the company’s case.
What Should I Do if I Receive an OSHA Violation?
If you receive a citation for an OSHA violation, you should:
1. Review the Citation Carefully
When you receive an OSHA citation, it’s crucial to understand what the violation is, what the proposed penalties are, and the timeframe you have to contest it. For example, the citation might state that you failed to provide proper respiratory protection for employees working in a dusty environment. The proposed penalty could be a $10,000 fine. You have 15 working days to file a notice of contest. A thorough understanding of these elements will guide your next steps.
2. Correct any Obvious Hazards
Regardless of whether you agree with the citation, if there’s an obvious hazard, correct it immediately per OSHA requirements. Employee safety is paramount. For instance, if the violation involves a broken guardrail near a high drop-off, fix it immediately. Not only is this essential for worker safety, but swift remedial action might also be viewed favorably if there are any subsequent proceedings.
3. Contact an OSHA Attorney
The world of OSHA regulations can be complex, so it’s wise to seek professional legal advice. An experienced OSHA attorney can guide you through the process and help you understand your rights and obligations. For example, they can help you determine whether it’s in your best interest to contest the citation or if it would be better to negotiate a settlement.
4. Keep Documentation
Documentation is key when dealing with OSHA citations. Keep a record of everything related to the violation. This can include photographs of the area where the violation occurred, records of employee training, maintenance records, records of corrective actions taken, etc. For example, if the citation was for lack of protective equipment, document when and where you ordered the equipment, who received it, and any training provided for its use.
5. Communicate with Employees
After receiving an OSHA citation, it’s crucial to communicate with your employees about what happened. Transparency can help alleviate concerns they may have about their safety. Inform them of the citation, what it was for, what corrective action has been or will be taken, and how it will affect their work procedures.
For instance, if a citation was issued for not using safety goggles, you could inform the workers about the citation, provide safety goggles, train them in their use, and inform them that using safety goggles is now a mandatory part of their job.
How Do I Contest an OSHA Violation?
If you decide to contest an OSHA violation, here are the steps to take:
- File a Notice of Contest: This should be done within 15 working days of receiving the citation. It’s important to file on time; otherwise, the citation becomes a final order not subject to review.
- State your case: The notice should include the specific details you are contesting, whether it’s the citation itself, the penalty, the abatement date, or all of these.
- Prepare for a hearing: If the case is not resolved during the negotiation phase, it may proceed to a hearing before an administrative law judge of the OSHRC.
- Legal representation: It’s beneficial to have an OSHA attorney represent you throughout this process. They can help prepare your defense, gather evidence, and present your case effectively.
How Can I Defend an OSHA Citation?
Defending an OSHA citation requires a thorough understanding of OSHA regulations and possible legal representation. Here are some steps to consider:
- Understand the Citation: You must understand the violation you’re being cited for and why.
- Gather Evidence: Gather all relevant evidence that can help your case. This evidence might include photographs, videos, training logs, equipment maintenance records, witness statements, and more.
- Develop Your Defense Strategy: This will depend on the specific circumstances. Some common defenses include showing that you weren’t in violation of the standard you were cited for, demonstrating that you made good faith efforts to comply, or proving that compliance was infeasible.
- Hire an OSHA Attorney: An attorney with experience in OSHA matters can be invaluable. They can help you develop a defense strategy and represent you during OSHA proceedings.
How Do I File A Complaint With OSHA?
If you believe there are unsafe or unhealthy conditions in your workplace, you can file a complaint with OSHA. Here’s how:
- Prepare Your Complaint: Detail the hazards as clearly and thoroughly as possible. Include any specific incidents that have occurred.
- Submit Your Complaint: You can submit your complaint online via the OSHA website, send it by mail, or by fax. In some cases, you can even call your local OSHA office to report a hazard.
- Follow Up: After submitting your complaint, you should receive a response from OSHA. If you don’t hear back within a reasonable timeframe, consider following up.
Do I Need to Consult an Attorney in Order to Challenge My OSHA Citation?
While it’s possible to challenge an OSHA citation on your own, the process can be difficult, and the stakes can be high. An attorney can provide guidance and representation, helping you protect your interests.
LegalMatch can help you find the right attorney for your needs. We can connect you with a worker’s compensation lawyer who has experience with OSHA citations and understands the complex world of OSHA regulations. Simply submit your case online at LegalMatch, and we’ll match you with attorneys in your area. You can then review the attorneys’ responses and decide which one is the best fit for you.