HAS OSHA RESUMED STRATEGY OF PUBLICLY SHAMING EMPLOYERS?

By Robert G. Chadwick, Jr., Seltzer Chadwick Soefje, PLLC.

On December 1, 2017, OSHA issued a news release on its website announcing that citations had been issued by the agency against Manafort Brothers, Inc. for alleged violations at a construction cite in Portsmouth, N.H. The citations proposed penalties of $329,548 for allegedly exposing employees to mercury and respiratory hazards.  The news release included a statement by OSHA’s Area Director opining: “These hazards were certainly preventable.”

As noted in a previous post on this blog, one of the strategies regularly employed by OSHA under the Obama administration was public shaming of employers which received citations. Upon the inauguration of President Trump on February 20, 2017,  OSHA’s strategy abruptly slowed. During the first five months of the Trump administration, OSHA issued only five press releases announcing citations issued against employers.

Recently, however, press releases such as that issued by OSHA on December 1st have dramatically increased.  In November alone, the agency issued eleven press releases announcing citations; one of these press releases was for a citation proposing fines of only $43,458. This development begs the question: Why the abrupt change from the previous months of this administration?

Unfortunately for employers, one answer to this question may be that OSHA has resumed the strategy of publicly shaming employers which receive citations. If so, this development would be unfortunate because OSHA citations may be later amended, reduced or even dismissed. Regrettably, developments favorable to employers are rarely announced publicly by the agency.  Even worse, the agency will generally not remove a news release regarding a citation even if the citation is later amended, reduced or dismissed.

To be sure, November may simply be an aberration and not indicative of any sea change at OSHA.  Still, employers would be wise to closely monitor OSHA’s website to see if bad press is once again a risk of an OSHA inspection.

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