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Appeals court affirms OSHA’s authority to issue and enforce safety standards


Photo: MicroStockHub/iStockphoto

Cincinnati — The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld OSHA’s authority to regulate workplace safety, with a 2-1 decision on Aug. 23.

The case, Allstates Refractory Contractors LLC v. Julie Su, stemmed from the company’s citation for a serious violation in 2019 “after a catwalk brace fell and injured a worker below.” OSHA initially fined Allstates $11,934, but reduced the amount to $5,967 after an informal settlement.

Allstates then filed suit in the Northern District of Ohio, where the company is headquartered, and asked the court “to declare OSHA’s statutory power to promulgate permanent ‘safety standards’ unconstitutional, and to issue a permanent injunction preventing OSHA from enforcing those standards.”

The district court affirmed that OSHA’s safety standards are constitutional in a September 2022 decision. Allstates then appealed to the 6th Circuit Court, which conducted a hearing in April.

In the decision issued four months later, Judge Richard Allen Griffin writes that Congress delegated OSHA’s authority for safety standards in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and that delegation has been “previously upheld by the Supreme Court.”

Griffin was joined in the opinion by Senior Judge Deborah L. Cook. Both were appointed to the court by President George W. Bush.

In his dissent, Judge John B. Nalbandian, a Trump administration appointee, writes that Congress hasn’t “made clear whether any ‘boundaries of … authority’ exist” for OSHA.

“Given that OSHA’s permanent standards provision vests large power in the secretary (of labor), the details limiting his discretion must be correspondingly detailed. Yet they’re not. OSHA’s very few requirements do not constrain the secretary’s broad power,” Nalbandian writes.

The decision applies to OSHA’s safety standards, not health standards. That’s because the Supreme Court already affirmed OSHA’s authority to issue and enforce health standards in 1980 in Industrial Union Department, AFL-CIO v. American Petroleum Institute, also known as the Benzene Case.

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