|Brad Jones Announces Retirement from ODOT
Brad Jones, who has served ODOT as Deputy Director of Construction Management since 2013, has announced that he will retire from ODOT at the end of August. OCA would like to congratulate Brad on his retirement and thank him for his calm and thoughtful leadership over the last six years. We wish him well in his future endeavors.
Employer Or Employee: Who's To Blame For OSHA Violations?
Construction firms can fight OSHA violations that stem from employee misconduct.
By Kim Slowey, Published July 25, 2019
Although Sarasota, Florida-based Crown Roofing has been subject to multiple OSHA inspections on its project sites during the last four years, company executives say they are not completely at fault.
The firm has contested the more than $500,000 in fines it has received since 2017 for failure to provide adequate fall protection for its employees. In an interview with NBC2 News last month, Crown Roofing Safety Director Aleksey Mendez said the incidents occurred because some employees were not obeying company safety rules.
He told a reporter that the company believes it is being unfairly targeted by OSHA, adding that it spent more than $1 million dollars last year to provide safety training for its employees, particularly those working on roofs.
"We train our workers on the safety program and provide the necessary equipment for them to work safe," Mendez said. "The notion that Crown Roofing does not care about employee safety is not only factually incorrect but intellectually dishonest. To keep fining the employer for actions that are [wittingly] done by the employee is not making them safer."
Lack of compliance
The Crown Roofing case raises interesting questions: What if a contractor has trained its employees on safety rules and a few workers simply refuse to follow procedures? Is the employer still responsible?
As it turns out, this could be considered employee misconduct, which can be used as defense against an OSHA violation. In fact, while the vast majority of OSHA standards deal with employer responsibilities for workplace safety, section 5(b) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employees to comply with jobsite safety rules and regulations.
But to mount a successful defense against an OSHA citation using employees’ lack of compliance as the basis, employers need to make sure they’ve incorporated four distinct elements into their safety policies, said Edwin G. Foulke Jr., partner in the Atlanta and Washington, D.C, offices of law firm Fisher Phillips and former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA under President George W. Bush.
• The first part, Foulke said, is to provide employees with a written policy that outlines general safety policies and procedures and those that deal with the alleged violation the employer is contesting. So, for example, if an employer is fighting an OSHA citation issued after an inspector observed an employee not wearing adequate fall protection equipment, the company must be able to point to one of its written regulations showing that the employee was required to wear it.
• The second part is training. Employers, Foulke said, must educate all employees on its safety policies and procedures and then have them sign a statement affirming that they have received the training.
• The third part is a system of verifying that the rules are being enforced. This is usually accomplished, Foulke said, by documenting the visual observations made by the contractor’s staff.
For example, the foreman might make several passes around the job each day to make sure employees are following the rules, while the superintendent might make two trips and the project manager one. They must put their notes from these inspections in writing and maintain them as part of the job record.
• Last, Foulke said, is written documentation that proves employees are routinely disciplined when they violate the rules. Discipline according to company policy is important, Foulke said, even if the employee is injured as a result of his or her actions.
“There is case law that says if you don't discipline the person who was observed [committing] the violation by the OSHA inspector, then you don't have that [employee misconduct] defense.”
Most large construction companies have these types of procedures in place. At St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Cos., said corporate vice president of safety Kevin Maitland, the disciplinary process entails three steps.
After a first offense, the company issues the worker in question a written warning. Before returning to the jobsite, the employee is also required to attend the same mandatory safety orientation session — including the exam — that he or she went through when first starting work at McCarthy.
The second breach will earn the worker a two-day suspension without pay and another orientation session. A third safety violation requires that the worker be barred from working on any McCarthy project for at least 12 months.
In cases of “imminent-danger,” violations like exposing oneself or others to a fall by not using proper personal protective equipment, Maitland said, the company could accelerate the disciplinary process by moving directly to a second- or third-step action even for first offenses.
"We expect our workers to follow safe work practices, and those performing work in an unsafe manner will be disciplined or terminated,” Maitland said. “This policy applies to both management and field workers across the board.”
If an employer has followed and performed the four steps correctly, Foulke said, and OSHA is presented with the proof, then the chances are that the agency will either withdraw the citation or an administrative judge will throw it out.
But while the employee misconduct defense can be used to successfully fight OSHA citations, that argument could lose credibility and effectiveness if used too often, said attorney Phillip Russell with Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart in Tampa, Florida.
“If this is happening over and over again,” he said,” the defense becomes weak and irrelevant.” This is especially true in a high-risk trade like roofing, where the dangers are well-known, and employers in that business are under pressure to make their jobsites safer.
If, in fact, an employee consistently breaks the safety rules, Russell said, the answer might be termination, even though it’s hard to find qualified tradesmen these days. “You can’t use a tight hiring market and a good economy as the reason you cannot enforce the safety rules,” he said.
While there is no mechanism for OSHA to issue a citation to employees who refuse to follow company safety rules, said attorney Benjamin Briggs, partner in the labor and employment department at Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Atlanta, they can be charged criminally in some cases.
One such situation is if an employee learns of an impending OSHA inspection and provides advance notice of it. "Under those circumstances,” he said, “an individual employee can be penalized financially and even imprisoned.”
Another scenario, Briggs said, is when an employee knowingly makes a false statement to OSHA during the course of an inspection. This can also leave the employee with the prospect of steep financial penalties and potential jail time.
Workers can also be criminally charged, he said, if their willful violation of a standard results in a fatality. In these cases, in addition to incarceration, the business can be penalized up to $500,000 and the individual up to $250,000.
Avoid being a target
Construction sites are more vulnerable to inspections than other industries because the work takes place outside and often is in plain view of those passing by, unlike work that happens in the relative privacy of a factory floor.
“So, if an OSHA compliance officer is driving by a construction site and sees somebody working at [a certain] height without fall protection or sees somebody in a trench that doesn't have a trench box, they are going to stop and have a conversation,” Briggs said. “And they might start an inspection under those circumstances.”
But what about claims that OSHA is unfairly targeting one employer with multiple, consecutive inspections, along with a slew of citations and fines?
“If you have OSHA repeatedly showing up on your jobsite, figure out why,” Russell said, “and do what you can on your jobsite … to show them that you take [potential violations] seriously.”
If all violations have been addressed, and the agency still continues to make what seems to be an unreasonable number of inspection visits, he said, then there are some remedies, like escalating the issue up the OSHA ladder, all the way to Washington, D.C., if necessary.
“But I can't go make an argument to the agency that you take it seriously if you're having problems on your jobsite,” Russell said. “And, if they're showing up, and they're finding things, that's on you. That's not on the agency."
TAUC IGI Conference in Cincinnati on Sept. 10-12, 2019
The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC) is conducting an Industrial Grade Innovation (IGI) Conference and Expo on Sept. 10-12, 2019 at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati.
The Association of Union Constructors (TAUC) is dedicated to bringing the three entities involved in the successful completion of construction projects together – Owners, Contractors & The Trades. In the union construction and maintenance sector, buy-in from all three is critical.
The Industrial Grade Innovation Conference and Expo (IGI), Sept. 10-12 in Cincinnati, will give technology firms and innovation entrepreneurs an unprecedented opportunity to introduce their products and services to senior executives in the industrial construction and maintenance industry, one of the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy.
TAUC will have an amazing lineup of speakers who will discuss existing innovation and technology that has the potential to revolutionize the construction and maintenance industry. Here are 3 good reasons to attend:
1. Relevant Keynote Speakers
Learn about the future of the industry from the CEO of an industrial AI software platform, an innovation consultant and the chief technology officer of Stanley Black & Decker.
2. Interactive Discussion Groups
Take part in discussion groups led by Owner/Clients, Contractors, Labor Representatives with Technology Provider representatives with real world examples of how innovation and technology is impacting these segments of the construction market.
3. Informative Breakout Sessions
Attendees can choose from eight 20-minute concurrent breakout sessions led by innovation and technology subject matter experts.
Space is limited, so early registration is encouraged. Click on the following link for additional information and registration instructions for the conference. www.igiexpo.com
ODOT announces Traffic Incident Management Training Classes
ODOT has announced 12 sessions of the new Ohio Traffic Incident Management (OTIM) Training. These free, 2-hour class sessions will be of interest to anyone who responds to incidents impacting the roadway transportation system, such as Fire Departments, EMS, Law Enforcement (Police, Sheriff, Highway Patrol), DOT, Public Works, EPA, EMA, Towing and Recovery, and Highway Construction Companies.
Depending on the location, the OTIM classes have been scheduled for either morning (8:30am to 11:00am) or afternoon (12:30pm to 3:00pm). Registration is now open as follows:
• October 1 (a.m.) – Bowling Green Click here to register.
• October 2 (a.m.) – New Philadelphia Click here to register.
• October 3 (a.m.) – Akron Click here to register.
• October 8 (a.m.) – Garfield Heights Click here to register.
• October 9 (a.m.) – Lebanon Click here to register.
• October 10 (a.m.) – Chillicothe Click here to register.
• October 16 (a.m.) – Marietta Click here to register.
• October 17 (p.m.) – Ashland Click here to register.
• October 22 (a.m.) – Delaware Click here to register.
• October 23 (p.m.) – Lima Click here to register.
• October 29 (p.m.) – Lebanon Click here to register.
• October 30 (p.m.) – Delaware Click here to register.
Ohio LTAP is managing the registration process for all participants. Pre-registration is required. Registrations will be processed in the order they are submitted online, while seats are still available.
OCA/Ohio Laborers LECET Fund Charity Golf Outing
OCA is co-sponsoring a charity golf outing with the Ohio Laborers LECET Fund on September 13, 2019 at the Deer Ridge Golf Club in Bellville, Ohio. OCA's designated charity to benefit from the event is the Ronald McDonald House. We encourage OCA members to join us for a day of fun and networking with representatives of the Ohio Laborers Union, and to generate much needed funds for some wonderful charities. To review additional information about the event and for a registration/sponsorship brochure, please click on the following link. Click here for more information. Click here for registration material.