Do you work in or with the construction industry? If so, chances are you have heard of The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, otherwise known by the abbreviation “OSHA”.
OSHA was created by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970; the goal of the Act is to ensure that employers provide employees with a work environment free from recognized hazards, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, falls from elevated places, mechanical dangers, or unsanitary conditions.
To ensure the safety of employees, OSHA created a vast list of safety requirements that employers are required to comply with. For example, an employer is required to instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe condition(s) and the regulation(s) applicable to the employees work environment to control or eliminate hazard(s) or other exposure to illness or injury [29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2)].
In addition to general safety requirements, an example of which is above, there are also safety requirements specific to the type of tool or machinery utilized on the job site. For example, if a scaffold is in use, the planks must extend over their end supports not less than 6 inches nor more than 18 inches [29 CFR 1910.28(a)(13)]. Or, if a portable circular saw is in use, the saw must have an upper guard that covers the entire blade of the saw and a retractable lower guard [29 CFR 1926.304(d)].
When a new client comes to our office with a construction accident injury, one of the first things our office does is review the facts for violations of the OSHA requirements. If a violation is found, a report is made to OSHA.
Upon receiving a report of a violation, OSHA will investigate, which usually includes a site visit to the location of the accident and/or an inspection of the employers shop. If a violation is found as a result of the inspections, OSHA will issue a Citation and Notification of Penalty.
OSHA violations are classified as: 1. “Other Than Serious Violation”; 2. “Serious Violation”; and 3. “Willful Violation”. A willful violation carries the largest fine; Other Than Serious carries the smallest fine. Violations can also be categorized as a “Repeat Violation” or a “Failure To Abate Prior Violation”.
Once an employer receives a Citation and Notification of Penalty, the employer can either pay the fine, or partake in an informal conference in attempts to reduce the fine. If the employer is unable to reduce the fine as a result of the informal conference, the employer can also contest the violations and penalty before the OSHA Board in Washington D.C.
The benefit of utilizing the OSHA process for prosecuting personal injury claims is that the OSHA paperwork regarding violations and citations can be obtained via a Freedom Of Information Law request, thereby providing an attorney with proof of the employers’ negligence and responsibility for the employees’ injuries. Further, since they are issued by a Federal Governmental Agency responsible for employee safety, the OSHA violations carry significant weight and are thus a valuable tool for use in settlement negotiations and/or trial.
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