On Safety

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When OSHA knocks, you better answer

June 2, 2015
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Are you thinking about turning OSHA away the next time the agency shows up for an inspection? This story may have you reconsidering that option.

OSHA investigators visited a Kansas City, MO-based foundry on March 27 in response to a report that an employee had an elevated blood-lead level, according to an agency press release. But instead of being allowed on the premises, the foundry’s owner refused entrance to the compliance officers. This is within an employer’s rights. However, what OSHA alleges happened next crossed the line from potential rudeness into criminal contempt.

After OSHA inspectors were turned away, they obtained a warrant and returned April 7, only to be again refused entrance by the foundry owner and representatives from a consulting company, OSHA said. The safety inspectors were allowed inside only after U.S. Marshals arrived at the scene. But OSHA alleges that both the foundry owner and the consulting company representatives obstructed the inspection after the Marshals left, leading attorneys from the Departments of Labor and Justice to initiate contempt proceedings.

That worked. OSHA was able to complete the inspection and, on May 22, the agency announced that a U.S. District judge found the foundry, its owner and three safety consultant company representatives in contempt for disobeying the court order.

Altogether, up to $20,000 was assessed to the owner, the company and the consultants:

  • All the defendants were ordered to jointly pay $10,778 to reimburse department costs.
  • The foundry and its own owner are liable for $1,000 in fines each for failure to cooperate.
  • The three consultants were fined $2,000 each for willfully impeding the investigation and refusing to comply with the warrant.

The case illustrates the importance of cooperating with federal investigators. Rick Kaletsky, a Connecticut-based safety consultant and former OSHA inspector, told me that it is a very rare case when he would recommend an employer request a warrant from OSHA. Once the warrant is in hand, though, you had better open your doors.

“I can understand someone saying, ‘make them get a warrant,’” Kaletsky said. “But when you get beyond the warrant and start getting into Marshals, any suggestion that they continue to keep OSHA out is just really, really stupid.”

To learn how to properly react to a compliance visit, check out Safety+Health’s recent article on preparing for an OSHA inspection.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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