There are some Massachusetts employers who repeatedly violate the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, even after they have been cited. Egregious repeat violations occur even in industries where media reports and OSHA have taken particular care to make the industry safer. Recently, a construction company was cited for willful, repeat and serious workplace safety violations to the tune of $336,200 in proposed fines.
What are willful violations? They are those violations that are committed with disregard for the requirements of the law or indifference to worker safety. Serious violations are defined slightly differently as those in which death or serious harm could occur where an employer knew or should have known about the hazard.
OSHA investigated the construction company after an unbraced roof system collapsed around a worker at his job, causing him broken ribs and leg injuries. The lack of bracing during installation exposed the employee to harm. Similarly, workers were exposed to 12-foot falls during truss installation and were exposed to impalement from anchor bolts left uncovered.
There were also other fall hazards that exposed workers to falls of 10-20 feet. These included working without fall protection while framing, constructing leading edges and receiving materials at elevation. Additionally, there was a misused ladder and uninspected rigging.
The regional administrator of OSHA acknowledged that falls are the primary killer in construction work and an employer who continues to fail to offer fall protection is “gambling” with employee’s and worker’s lives. The contractor was placed in a “Severe Violator Enforcement Program” (SVEP). This is a relatively new program that requires that repeat violators receive reasonable follow-up inspections to make sure they are complying with their legal obligations to provide safe working conditions.
An employer is put into SVEP if it has any one of the following: (1) has an egregious violation, (2) multiple willful, repeat or failure to abate violations associated a fatality or overnight hospitalization of three employees, (3) two or more willful, repeat or failure to abate violations that are connected with a hazard that is part of OSHA’s National Emphasis program (this includes falls), or three or more willful, repeat, or failure to abate violations related to the release of very hazardous chemicals.
The SVEP program has been subject to criticism, including criticism that it prematurely punishes employers. Critics say, among other things, that it locks employers into its program until they are able to disprove the underlying citations which can take years or require them to prove an impossible number of exit criteria.
However, it is equally worth noting that other critics believe OSHA doesn’t provide sufficient teeth to deter employers from violating its mandates apart from its SVEP program. SVEP seems to provide some possibility that employers who might otherwise repeatedly violate OSHA guidelines and then get their fines reduced or appealed, will actually be deterred from violating them in the first place.
If you are a worker in a dangerous industry, such as construction and certain kinds of manufacturing, you should be aware that your employers have an obligation to provide you with a safe work environment. The specifics of those safety features vary from industry to industry. However, if you fear being hurt at a dangerous job or are hurt on the job, an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney may be able to help you obtain benefits and advise you on next steps. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.