Although an OSHA offense is never good, OSHA comes down the hardest on repeat offenders. This policy of penalizing repeat offenses makes a lot of sense, especially to the vast majority of employers who care about their workers’ safety and try to follow the rules. The problem is OSHA’s stubborn insistence on treating all locations owned by the same corporation as a single person. The OSHA if-it-happened-in-Hawaii-it-happened-in-Delaware mentality came to a head recently when OSHA settled a national case with Wal-Mart. Here’s a look at the settlement and what it means.
What Happened: The story begins in August 2011 when OSHA inspected a Wal-Mart superstore in Rochester, NY, after a worker complained. Inspectors discovered a series of violations like blocked fire exits, no LOTO procedure for performing maintenance on a trash compactor and an unguarded grinder. Had the store been the only location of the business, these violations would have warranted serious citations carrying a maximum fine of $7,000 a pop.
But this was a Wal-Mart. And while they were a first for the Rochester store, the violations were similar to those OSHA found at other locations both in New York and 8 other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Result: OSHA treated the violations as repeat offenses carrying a maximum fine of $70,000 per–$288,000 in total penalties + $67,500 more for 14 serious violations. OSHA appealed.
On August 7, 2013, OSHA and Wal-Mart announced that they had agreed to settle the case.
What the Settlement Requires
Wal-Mart has agreed to:
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 13-1570-NAT, National OSHA, August 7, 2013
WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU
The case isn’t just a piece of news. The safety improvements the settlement agreement requires Wal-Mart to make offer insight into the specific measures OSHA thinks are necessary to achieve compliance with some of its most frequently cited standards. So it pays to break down these crucial details:
Trash Compactor Safety Procedures
Under the settlement, Wal-Mart must:
The settlement also requires Wal-Mart to train or re-train all affected workers, managers or contractors in the above policies and procedures. Crucial details: The training must:
Improve Hazcom Training
Another source of compliance are the measures OSHA will require Wal-Mart to implement to improve its Hazcom safety training, including:
Audit Compliance with Settlement
Especially eyebrow raising is Wal-Mart’s agreement to have independent third party monitors audit at least 80% of the covered sites every 4 months and verify via written report that the hazards are being abated in accordance with the settlement agreement.
OSHA’s aggressive attribution of repeat violations to multiple locations of the same business is nothing new. But the Wal-Mart settlement extends the policy further than ever. It’s not just about increasing fines any more. OSHA is now using the policy to literally tell national companies how to run their safety programs. Regardless of how you feel about Wal-Mart and its reputation for mistreating workers, this new expansion by OSHA of its repeat violation authority should be of concern to all employers, especially those you have multiple operations.
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