When faced with the potential for workplace safety violations and penalties from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, most responsible employers take steps to address any outstanding safety issues. Last month in an order from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, an employer discovered what can happen if a court concludes that the company has not adequately responded to repeated violations.
In a matter involving a Maine roofing contractor, OSHA cited the business for safety violations at eleven worksites over the past decade. The agency alleged that the company basically ignored the citations, failing to correct the problems or pay almost $400,000 in assessed penalties during this time period. In response, the First Circuit found the contractor in civil contempt and ordered a series of remedial measures that extend well beyond OSHA’s typical enforcement authority.
These measures include implementation of a comprehensive safety and training program covering all employees and those of the company’s subcontractors. The program must include safety meetings, regular inspections, and confirmation of use of safety equipment. The company must inform OSHA of its work activities and allow the agency to inspect all such worksites. The First Circuit threatened incarceration of the business’s owner if it fails to meet these requirements, including progress on paying the accumulated penalties.
These measures are extraordinary because most businesses subjected to this volume of citations and fines would correct the problems (or go out of business) long before the matters reached this level of judicial enforcement. However, this case serves as a good reminder for all employers of their need to take seriously OSHA enforcement processes, as well as their need to implement measures that demonstrate a commitment to correcting any confirmed safety issues.