In 1970, the U.S. Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to establish and enforce safety standards for the more than 7 million American workplaces. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), American workers have a right to—
- Work on machines that are safe.
- Be provided required safety gear, such as gloves or a harness to prevent falls.
- Be protected from toxic chemicals.
To enforce these rights, an employee may request an OSHA inspection, ask to speak to an inspector, or file a complaint with OSHA. As a result of receiving an inquiry or a complaint, OSHA may investigate in two ways: by telephone or by onsite inspection. If it conducts a telephone investigation, OSHA will typically expect the employer to complete a fair amount of paperwork. If it conducts an onsite investigation, OSHA inspections will typically walk around the workplace and ask to see things.
If it finds that a safety standard has been violated, OSHA may issue a citation and assess a fine.
Lanier Ford’s attorneys assist employers in responding to complaints and investigations. Further, they are experienced with the appeals process, which typically involves three major steps:
- Negotiation with OSHA officials (typically the regional office administrator) to work out a settlement agreement. (OSHA focuses on removing hazards and compliance with safety standards rather than issuing citations and collecting fines.)
- Litigation before an administrative law judge (ALJ) of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC).
- Appeals of an ALJ’s decision to the full commission.
And if necessary, Lanier Ford attorneys appeal decisions of the full commission to the appropriate U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Each step of the way, Lanier Ford attorneys consult with the client to determine the most cost-effective method of proceeding. For example, one of the key strategic decisions when going before an ALJ is whether to pursue a conventional proceeding or a simplified proceeding. The conventional proceeding is generally more expensive and may involve pleadings, discovery, a hearing, briefs, and oral arguments before the ALJ. The simplified proceeding is generally less expensive but requires the disputed issues to be identified and narrowed.
With an eye toward preventing workplace injuries that may trigger both an OSHA fine and workers’compensation liability, Lanier Ford's employment attorneys also—
- Help employers find applicable safety regulations.
- Train supervisors and managers on the importance of enforcing safety standards and preventing retaliation against employees who trigger an investigation.
- Advise employers about how to report and otherwise respond to workplace accidents and deaths.