On Safety

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Ignorance as an excuse

October 19, 2015

If an employer doesn’t know about an OSHA rule, they should get a pass and not be fined if caught breaking it. Right?

That’s the suggestion of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL). During an Oct. 8 House Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing, Rogers questioned OSHA administrator David Michaels on why OSHA would fine an employer for an out-of-compliance machine if the machine hadn’t injured anyone and the employer fixed the issue.

Michaels said OSHA is not going to stop fining employers for violations.

“If we say the first time there’s a problem, and you only fix it after we found it, what’s the incentive for employers to abate hazards before we get there?” he said. “If every employer thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to get fined until OSHA gets here the second time,’ who’s going to fix things?”

“How are they going to know they’re out of compliance?” Rogers asked, cutting Michaels off. “I just find it obscene. It’s different if somebody had been injured, and you’d be right with that logic. But if somebody is not injured and you just find it during an inspection, give them a reasonable amount of time to fix it. And if they fix it, free pass.”

But Rogers, a Birmingham School of Law honors graduate and former practicing attorney, should know better. The traditional rule of law is that ignorance is not an excuse, and anyone who has ever been caught in a speed trap knows that as well.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act makes it clear that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees, and the rules in the act apply to employers.

I reached out to Rogers’ office, asking if the congressman believes that employers being unaware of safety laws is sufficient enough reason not to follow those laws. I haven’t heard back.

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

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