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Federal ALJ Allows OSHA to Seek Enterprise-Wide Abatement of Hazards Discovered at One Location

    Client Alerts
  • February 01, 2016

OSHA inspections are usually site-specific, meaning that the agency’s authority to issue penalties and to seek abatement of workplace hazards applies to the workplace actually inspected. Last month, a federal Administrative Law Judge expanded this authority, allowing OSHA to seek abatement measures for the employer’s other locations, which were never the subject of any safety inspection.

In Central Transport, LLC, OSHA’s cited the employer for powered industrial truck (forklift) safety violations at a Massachusetts shipping terminal, assessing a $330,800 penalty. The employer appealed the citation to the OSHA Safety and Health Review Commission.  In its complaint to the Commission, OSHA sought confirmation of the Massachusetts citation, but also requested an order requiring the employer to implement abatement steps at all of its facilities. The employer moved to strike this request on the basis that these other locations were never the subject of an OSHA safety inspection, therefore the agency had no factual or legal basis to require abatement.

The ALJ denied this motion, allowing the broad abatement request to proceed. She cited language in the OSHA Act that permits the agency to seek “other appropriate relief.” The ALJ read this language to allow a claim for enterprise-wide abatement, even if OSHA never actually inspected any of the employer’s other locations. If upheld through hearing and possible appeal, this will be the first decision granting OSHA broad authority to require corrective action at multiple uninspected facilities.

In addition to the direct impact of this decision on employers, it could prove a powerful disincentive for employers against appealing OSHA citations. If the agency’s response to an appeal is a request for an order adding broad abatement measures not part of the original citation, employers may hesitate before seeking review of fines and corrective measures limited to one location.