OSHA Expanded Enforcement in 2004

November 29, 2004

John Henshaw, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health OSHA, released the OSHAÆs annual enforcement statistics. He said the agency exceeded its inspection goal for FY 2004, completing 39,167 total inspections including more than 300 under the new Enhanced Enforcement Program (EEP) that focuses on employers who repeatedly ignore their safety and health obligations. OSHA also completed nearly 3,000 inspections within industries identified with high injury and illness rates.

"Our enforcement remained strong in FY 04," Henshaw said. "We exceeded our inspection goals; we strengthened our compliance assistance through our new enhanced enforcement program; and we found more violations and issued more serious and willful citations indicating a more accurate targeting system for workplaces and industries with a high proportion of injuries and illnesses."

Henshaw said the agency cited 86,708 violations of OSHA standards and regulations during FY 04, an increase of 3.8 percent over the previous year and nearly 10 percent over the last five years. Of particular significance was the increase in serious and willful violations issued during FY 04 (three and 14 percent, respectively, over FY 03). Henshaw said the increases demonstrate that OSHA is targeting the right workplaces for inspections by accurately identifying employers who repeatedly or willfully violate the law.

Henshaw also noted that injury and illness rates continue to decline and that fatality rates held their downward trend-over the past five years, the rate has decreased 11 percent.

"OSHA's enforcement program," Henshaw said, "is a key part of an overall approach which also includes training, compliance assistance, outreach, education, partnerships and cooperative programs that, together, make vital contributions to occupational health and safety. This approach is validated by the fact that workplace injury, illness and fatality rates are at their lowest levels ever, even as the workforce continues to expand. That is the ultimate measure of our success: more workers go home safe and healthy to their families at the end of every workday."

Alabama Contractor Cited Following Job Site Fatality

The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Cleveland Brother's Construction, LLC, of Auburn, AL, proposing $58,800 in total penalties for failing to protect workers from trenching hazards that resulted in the death of an employee.

On May 18, OSHA began an investigation at a Waverly Park subdivision construction site where a worker was trapped after the wall of the trench caved in. The worker was rescued, but died later the same day from his injuries.

Following this investigation, OSHA issued one alleged willful citation to Cleveland Brother's Construction, with a proposed penalty of $49,000, for failing to protect workers from cave-ins by sloping or shoring trench walls or by using protective systems, such as a trench box.

The company also received two alleged serious citations, with penalties totaling $9,800, for failing to provide safety training for employees and allowing excavated material to accumulate too near the edge of the trench.

The company has 15 working days to contest the OSHA citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Ergonomics Committee Offers Recommendations to OSHA

Identification of research gaps, improving ergonomics success story collections and distribution processes, and ensuring that ergonomics is part of an overall safety and health program are some of the recommendations made by the National Advisory Committee on Ergonomics (NACE) during its final meeting last week in Washington.

The committee's work groups - guidelines, research, and outreach and assistance - proposed their final recommendations to the full committee for further presentation to OSHA. The two-day meeting culminated a process begun two years ago when NACE was chartered by the Secretary of Labor to provide advice and recommendations to help OSHA accelerate the decline of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace.

OSHA Administrator John Henshaw thanked the committee members for their dedication and hard work over the past two years, saying that their service has "made a significant contribution that will result in fewer work-related musculoskeletal disorders in U.S. workplaces."

Henshaw noted that the committee charter had helped OSHA to identify some strategies for the future. One of those strategies includes the possibility of a formal presentation at a future NIOSH-sponsored National Occupational Research Agenda meeting citing the eight specific research gaps identified by the committee.

Adding to previous recommendations regarding outreach and assistance, NACE suggested that OSHA increase the number, quality and use of ergonomic success stories posted on the agency's website and offered a success story template to facilitate the process.

During previous meetings, the 15-member committee urged OSHA to work through its partnership and Alliance programs to expand information on best practices and to hold a research symposium (which was accomplished last January). In a January 2004 meeting, NACE identified 16 additional industries for the agency to consider for future ergonomics guidelines.

Company Ordered to Rehire Whistleblower

OSHA has ruled that the American Standard Cos. and subsidiary Trane Corp. must reinstate a former controller. The companies must pay David Windhauser $105,489.55 in back pay and compensatory remedies, and must remove any disciplinary letters from his personnel file.

OSHA determined that Windhauser had been fired in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 after he raised questions to his supervisors regarding company accounting practices. An investigation determined that Windhauser had been discharged for "whistleblowing" in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

OSHA enforces the whistleblower protections of 14 laws, including Sarbanes-Oxley. Under the act (the Corporate and Criminal Fraud Accountability Act), an employee may file a complaint with OSHA if the employee has been retaliated against by his or her employer for reporting suspected corporate fraud or other activities related to fraud against shareholders. If OSHA determines after an investigation that an employee's complaint has merit, it can order remedies such as reinstatement and back pay.

Both the company and Windhauser have 30 days to file objections and request a hearing on the matter with the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges.

Connecticut Firm Fined for Roofer's Death

The state Department of Labor has fined a South Windsor, CT, company following the accidental death of a construction worker last month.

The worker died after he slipped and fell from a theater roof into a kettle of 500-degree tar. Eastern Roofing Corp. faces fines totaling $8,250 for violating eight safety standards during the roofing project, according to OSHA. Two co-workers sustained burns while trying to pull the roofer from the tar.

In two of the eight citations released Friday, the agency found that Eastern Roofing had failed to provide a "fall arrest system" to prevent the injury. The citation is the second that the company has received for failing to provide fall protection.

The company was fined in 2001, settling with a $500 fine and additional safety training.

All of the latest citations were listed as "serious" by OSHA. They carry individual fines ranging from $450 for failing to remove asbestos materials before the end of the work shift, to $2,100 for failing to install a guardrail system, safety net or warning line system on the roof of the studio.

The company has until Dec. 6 to file an objection to the citations.

Terminix Cited For Employee Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals

Terminix Commercial of Pennsauken, NJ has received OSHA citations for failing to protect workers from hazards involving methyl bromide exposure.

The company provides exterminating and pest control services, employing 26 workers in Southern New Jersey.

OSHA began its investigation in May in response to an incident reported by the company in which four employees were admitted to the hospital exhibiting symptoms consistent with methyl bromide exposure. The previous day, the workers had removed tarps from stacks of cocoa bean pallets that were fumigated with methyl bromide.

The agency has issued citations to Terminix Commercial for two alleged willful violations of health standards, carrying a penalty of $99,000. Citations were also issued for four alleged serious violations, with a penalty of $16,650, and three alleged other-than-serious violations carrying a $3,600 penalty.

The willful citations address the employer's failure to provide appropriate respiratory protection; failure to evaluate workplace hazards; and failure to provide training on the hazards associated with methyl bromide. The serious citations include employees' exposure to fall hazards; use of forklifts to lift employees; lack of forklift training and lack of eye and face protection. Other-than-serious citations were issued for recordkeeping and hazard communication deficiencies.

Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. A serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.