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Do OSHA Powers Extend to Enterprise-Wide Abatement Orders?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can fine employers for failure to follow standards set by the administration. OSHA can also order abatement when unsafe conditions are identified. When OSHA orders abatement, employers will need to fix problems and remedy dangerous situations in order to keep employees safe.  Following OSHA guidelines is best practices for every industry and can help to prevent workers’ compensation claims as a result of on-the-job injuries. Unfortunately, many employers fail to follow the safety requirements set forth and OSHA abatement orders are essential to make them comply.

New York Workplace Injury LawyersNow, a case is going to trial in which the extent of OSHA’s powers to order abatement will be determined. According to Safety News Alert, the case hinges on whether it is permissible for OSHA to order enterprise-wide abatement.

Can OSHA Issue Enterprise-Wide Abatement Orders?

OSHA typically issues an abatement order after visiting a workplace and seeing a violation of safety regulations. For example, OSHA visited a shipping company in 2014 and cited the company for 14 different violations of forklift safety standards.  The company was fined $330,800 for problems with its forklifts, which included leaky batteries, non-functioning horns, non-functioning lights, tire damage, and other problems.

The company had a history of forklift problems, and has received 11 final order OSHA citations for forklift safety issues since 2006. A total of eight citations were issued for repeat violations.  Despite the fact the company has been in trouble before, it decided to challenge OSHA’s order to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC).  When OSHA appealed its violation, OSHA also made its own complaint to OSCHR and requested an order requiring the shipping company not just to correct the 14 identified violations but also to comply with OSHA forklift safety standards at every one of its locations. In other words, OSHA asked for enterprise-wide abatement.

The shipping company, of course, asked OSHRC to dismiss this enterprise-wide abatement order. An OSHRC administrator, however, denied the request and ordered the question of OSHA’s authority to command enterprise abatement to be decided in trial.  The purpose of the trial is to determine if OSHA can issue this kind of order.

If it is determined OSHA can order enterprise-wide abatement, this could help to make workers considerably safer. OSHA has previously issued abatement orders only after finding specific violations during an inspection, but OSHA is too understaffed to inspect every business and facility. Companies violating regulations at one place often violate the same regulations at other locations, and OSHA could address these issues through one order without having to inspect all locations.

The enterprise-wide abatement order is being called precedent setting by a regional solicitor of labor, who stated: “This is the first decision by an OSHA Administrative Law Judge expressly finding that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission may have the authority under the OSHA Act to order abatement measures beyond the specific violations identified in the citations.”  The decision could make a big impact on worker safety.