Category Archives: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

UPDATED 11/22/2017: Deadline to Electronically Submit OSHA Data

Contributed by Matthew Horn, November 21, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: In follow up to our blog from yesterday, OSHA issued a press release this morning extending the deadline to electronically report from 12/1 to 12/15. All other information in the blog remains unchanged.
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On June 27, 2017, OSHA issued a press release announcing that it would be delaying the compliance date for its Rule requiring most employers to electronically submit their injury and illness data to OSHA. The press release pushed back the compliance date four months, from July 1, 2017 to December 1, 2017, so OSHA could review the Rule closely.

Dec1Just over two weeks later, OSHA issued another press release announcing that it would be launching its website allowing employers to submit their injury and illness data on August 1, 2017. On August 1, 2017, OSHA made good on that promise and launched its website, which is linked here. To date, despite OSHA’s promise to review the Rule closely, it has taken no action to roll back or delay the electronic reporting requirements, so the December 1st deadline remains.

Under the Rule, virtually all employers with twenty or more employees are required to submit their completed Form 300A for 2016 by December 1, 2017. In 2018, employers with twenty or more employees must submit their completed Form 300A for 2017 by July 1, 2018, and those employers with more than 250 employees must submit their Form 300 and 301s by that deadline, as well.

While we were hoping OSHA would roll back or delay the Rule, it appears that is not going to happen. Accordingly, all applicable employers would be well-served submitting their data online no later than December 1st.

OSHA Charges Ahead With Electronic Report Rule

Contributed by Matthew Horn, August 2, 2017

Electronic Reporting File_2On June 27, 2017, OSHA issued a press release announcing that it would be delaying the compliance date for its Rule requiring most employers to electronically submit their injury and illness data to OSHA. The press release proposed pushing the compliance date back four months, from July 1, 2017 to December 1, 2017, so OSHA could review the Rule closely.

Just over two weeks later, OSHA issued another press release announcing that it would be launching its website allowing employers to submit their injury and illness data on August 1, 2017. On August 1, 2017, OSHA made good on that promise and launched its website, which is linked here.

Under the Rule, virtually all employers with twenty or more employees are required to submit their completed Form 300A for 2016 by December 1, 2017. In 2018, employers with twenty or more employees must submit their completed Form 300A for 2017 by July 1, 2018, and those employers with more than 250 employees must submit their Form 300 and 301s by that deadline, as well.

Notably, despite moving forward with the launch of its injury tracking website, OSHA has yet to address the “review” of the Rule it promised in its June 27, 2017 press release. Accordingly, employers would be well-served to wait to submit their 300A data until shortly before the December 1, 2017 deadline to see if OSHA changes course on the Rule before that deadline. Mark your calendars.

Three Needless Deaths: Recognize Confined Space Dangers on Your Job Sites

Contributed by Patrick M. Sanders, July 24, 2017

Construction Site

Supervisor using walkie-talkie at construction site

On July 14, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a contractor for 10 serious violations after the deaths of three workers who succumbed to toxic gases in a manhole on January 16, 2017.

Preventable safety failures led to the deaths of Elway Gray, a 34-year-old pipe layer, who entered the manhole – a confined space – and quickly became unresponsive; Louis O’Keefe, a 49-year-old laborer, who entered the hole in an attempt to rescue Gray; and Robert Wilson, a 24-year-old equipment operator, who followed to rescue his two fallen coworkers. Two other employees and a firefighter were also exposed to the toxic gases during rescue attempts but survived.

Post-incident atmospheric testing of the confined space revealed lethal levels of carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide. OSHA investigators issued Douglas N. Higgins, Inc. and its related contracting company, serious citations, totaling $119,507, in penalties.

The incident-related serious violations included failure to:

  • Purge or ventilate the confined space before entry;
  • Prevent workers from exposure to an asphyxiation hazard;
  • Provide necessary rescue and emergency equipment for employees that were overcome inside a permit-required confined space;
  • Develop and implement a written hazard communication program for a worksite on which employees were exposed to dangerous chemicals and gases;
  • Use a calibrated direct-reading device to test for toxic gases, creating an asphyxiation hazard;
  • Create and document the confined space entry permit;
  • Provide training to employees in the safe performance of their assigned duties in permit-required confined spaces; and
  • Provide a guardra­­­il around the manhole opening, exposing employees to a fall hazard.

Full citations may be found here.

OSHA Area Director Condell Eastmond’s comments were all too familiar: “Three employees needlessly lost their lives and others were injured due to their employer’s failure to follow safe work practices.”

This case should remind all employers that confined spaces within the workplace often present difficult and involved identification, training, written program management and compliance documentation retention issues.

What responsibility do companies have to ensure that their contractors protect their workers?

Those organizations that have a record of previous “serious” violations must be aware OSHA will rigorously enforce employee training, workplace safety information requirements, toxic workplace condition testing and all related rescue and emergency safety equipment regulations and will issue repeat, willful and, in extreme cases, criminal violations, should subsequent violations be documented by OSHA.

ACA Whistleblower Complaint Procedures

Contributed by Kelly Haab-Tallitsch, November 3, 2016

On October 11, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued the final rule creating procedures for handling whistleblower complaints under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The ACA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report alleged violations of the act’s health coverage reforms or who receives a premium subsidy or tax credit for purchasing individual health coverage through a state or federal exchange. A covered employer can receive a penalty if an employee receives a tax-credit or premium subsidy for coverage through an exchange. The final rule addresses the concern that the relationship between the employee’s receipt of a premium tax credit and the potential penalty imposed on an employer could create an incentive for an employer to retaliate against an employee.

whistleTo demonstrate unlawful retaliation under the ACA, an employee need only show that the protected activity was a contributing factor to an adverse employment decision—rather than the “but for” cause. An employer will then have to present “clear and convincing evidence” that it would have taken the same action even if the employee had not engaged in the protected activity.

Substantially similar to the interim rule on ACA whistleblower claims published in 2013, the final rule mirrors many of the provisions related to whistleblower protections under other statutes that OSHA enforces and includes procedures and time frames for employers and employees to appeal an OSHA decision.

Complaint Procedures

An employee must file a complaint within 180 days of the alleged retaliation. The complaint can be oral or written, made by telephone, in person or electronic means, and may be made in any language if the employee can’t file in English. Anyone can file a complaint on behalf of an individual, provided that individual agrees.

Once a complaint is submitted, OSHA must provide written notice to the employer, provide the employer and employee an opportunity to submit a response and meet with the investigator to present statements from witnesses, conduct an investigation, and issue notification of its findings. If OSHA finds reasonable cause to believe that retaliation has occurred, a preliminary order will be issued, which can include job reinstatement, lost wages, restoration of benefits, special damages (i.e. emotional distress) and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Either party may then request a hearing by a Department of Labor administrative law judge (ALJ) and an ALJ’s decision may be appealed to the department’s administrative review board.

Employer Action Steps

To reduce the risk of an ACA whistleblower claim, applicable large employers (as defined by the ACA) should:

  1. Ensure compliance obligations are adequately addressed;
  2. Identify ethics and legal compliance as a business priority;
  3. Implement and distribute a code of ethics that makes a commitment to compliance explicit;
  4. Include a well-publicized and effective internal complaint procedure; and
  5. Train supervisory staff! Make sure supervisors know what constitutes protected activity, retaliation, etc.

By taking the above steps, an employer can minimize chances employees will raise ACA whistleblowing claims and maximize chances that any such claims are raised and resolved internally.

OSHA MAY POSTPONE ENFORCEMENT OF ITS CONTROVERSIAL POST-ACCIDENT DRUG TESTING RULE FOR A SECOND TIME

Contributed by Jonathan Hoag, October 17, 2016

As we previously reported, OSHA postponed enforcement of its controversial post-accident drug testing rule from August 10, 2016 to November 1, 2016.  Now, with the November 1, 2016 deadline approaching, OSHA may extend its stay on enforcing the post-drug testing rule until December 1, 2016.

47506356 - alarm clock - deadlineOSHA initially delayed enforcement of the rule until November 1, 2016 because a lawsuit was filed in July 2016 by numerous parties seeking injunctive relief to prevent enforcement of the rule. OSHA agreed to postpone enforcement of the rule to allow the parties to brief the legal issues presented in the lawsuit. The legal briefing was completed in September 2016.  While the Judge was reviewing the case to determine if OSHA should be enjoined from enforcing its rule, OSHA claimed that the plaintiffs were only seeking injunctive relief on behalf of the parties to the lawsuit and not on a national basis.

On October 14, 2016, the Judge determined that the parties should further brief the issue as to whether the injunction sought was only on behalf of the parties to the lawsuit or if it would apply nationwide. The Judge will only agree to review the issue further if OSHA will agree to postpone enforcement until December 1, 2016. OSHA must decide by October 18, 2016 if it will agree to delay enforcement. It is likely OSHA will agree to delay enforcement. However, it is unclear whether the court will enter an injunction to prevent enforcement of the rule, and if an injunction is entered whether it will apply nationwide or only to the parties that filed the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, it is doubtful employers will receive clarity on this issue until close to the deadline when enforcement is to begin – no matter if that deadline is November 1, 2016 or December 1, 2016. As such, employers should continue with preparations to comply with OSHA’s new rule. For more in depth coverage, join us for a webinar on this topic on October 19, 2016 from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Or click here to register for an in-person seminar in Effingham, Illinois on October 20, 2016.

OSHA to Delay Enforcement of Electronic Recordkeeping Rule Until November 1, 2016

Contributed by Jonathon Hoag, July 14, 16

This is an update to our July 6, 2016 post regarding OSHA’s plan to enforce new rules concerning post-accident drug and alcohol testing.  In response to a lawsuit filed to block the August 10th implementation of OSHA’s new electronic recordkeeping rule (including the limits on post-accident drug and alcohol testing), OSHA announced yesterday that it will delay enforcement until November 1, 2016. There is no indication that OSHA will back away from its new stance on post-accident drug and alcohol testing, but enforcement will not begin until November 1, 2016.

POST-ACCIDENT DRUG & ALCOHOL TESTING: A VIOLATION OF OSHA???

Contributed by Jonathon Hoag, July 6, 2016

As we previously reported, the August 10, 2016 effective date for OSHA’s final electronic reporting rule is quickly approaching. The requirement to electronically submit data does not begin until 2017, but an important part of this rulemaking that goes into effect August 10, 2016 is the requirement for employers to implement a reasonable procedure to ensure accurate reporting of illnesses and injuries. The concern about possible underreporting was highlighted during the rulemaking process and post-accident drug and alcohol testing was specifically targeted as an area which could deter accurate reporting of injuries. The preamble to OSHA’s final rule on electronic reporting states that blanket post-accident drug and alcohol testing policies deter accurate reporting and may constitute retaliation for reporting an injury.

Injured personIronically, employers have a long-standing practice of implementing post-accident drug and alcohol testing policies to promote safety and reduce workplace accidents. Now, OSHA suggests that post-accident testing policies might lead to OSHA violations. OSHA’s current stance is that blanket post-incident drug testing policies deter proper reporting. OSHA advises that drug testing policies should be revised to only require post-incident testing to situations in which employee drug or alcohol use is likely to have contributed to the incident and for which the test can accurately identify impairment. To muddy the waters further, OSHA explained that employers do not need to specifically suspect drug use before testing, but there should be a reasonable possibility that drug use by the reporting employee was a contributing factor to the reported injury before requiring the employee to test. OSHA then added that drug testing that may be perceived as punitive or embarrassing to the employee is likely to deter injury reporting.

The only certain guidance OSHA provided on post-incident testing is that if the employer is required to test to comply with state or federal law, the testing policy is not prohibited by its final rule. However, if post-accident testing is not required by state or federal law, employers should expect that use of such testing will now be open to challenge and possibly subject to an OSHA violation. OSHA penalties are set to increase August 1, 2016, so this seemingly minor change to enforcement practices might result in significant penalties to employers.