The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citation of the Battle Creek Veterans Administration Medical Center, following a safety inspection conducted in July as part of OSHA’s Federal Agency Targeting Inspection Program for seven notices of unsafe or unhealthful working conditions reminds employers that OSHA expects employers to maintain safe workplaces.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, federal agencies must comply with the same safety standards as private-sector employers. According to OSHA, its inspection uncovered several repeat safety violations, as well as certain other serious safety violations.
OSHA reports that three repeat safety violations involved failing to evaluate the workplace to identify if permit-required confined spaces were present and label such spaces with danger signs; failing to adequately guard automated laundry equipment to prevent employees from entering the work area, and failing to fully guard the belt and pulley of an air compressor. To issue notices for repeat violations, OSHA must have issued at least one other notice for the same violation at one of the agency’s establishments within the same standard industrial classification code, commonly known as the SIC code. OSHA previously has cited U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in Danville and North Chicago, Illinois, and Minneapolis, Minnesota for the same safety and health violations.
The serious safety violations found included three serious safety violations for unguarded floor openings in the general repair shop; failing to inspect powered industrial trucks prior to placing them in service, and failing to remove trucks from service in need of repair. Additionally, OSHA found a circuit breaker panel was not mounted correctly. OSHA issues a serious notice when it finds a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Beyond the repeated and serious violations, OSHA reports it also found one other-than-serious violation for failing to close unused openings on electrical cabinets and junction boxes. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.
The medical center has 15 business days from receipt of the notices to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or appeal the notices by submitting a summary of the agency’s position on the unresolved issues to OSHA’s regional administrator.
While the medical center and other federal agencies are required to comply with the same OSHA rules as private sector employers, the VA and other federal agencies don’t face the same liabilities when cited. OSHA cannot propose monetary penalties against another federal agency for failure to comply with OSHA standards.
The risks for private sector employers is illustrated by another recent OSHA. OSHA recently cited Riddell All-American Sports Co. with eight serious violations following an OSHA investigation, which found that the company exposed workers to multiple safety and health hazards at its San Antonio facility. The violations include failing to ensure electrical equipment was free from recognized hazards, provide adequate machine guarding while employees operate industrial sewing machines and provide a fall protection program to prevent falls from the basket of a powered industrial truck. The Elyria, Ohio-based company, which employs about 25 workers in San Antonio, paints helmets for various sports. Proposed penalties total $44,000. Read the News Release.
Since private sector employers that don’t enjoy the VA’s immunity liability run much greater risks for failing to maintain workplace safety, including significant civil and in the case of a workplace death, potentially even criminal penalties, private sector hospitals and other organizations should exercise special care to ensure appropriate safety in their workplaces. “The Battle Creek Veterans Administration Medical Center failed to properly ensure the facility was in compliance with established safety and health procedures,” said Robert Bonack, director of OSHA’s Lansing Area Office. “All employers, including federal employers, are responsible for knowing what hazards exist in their facilities and taking appropriate precautions by following OSHA standards so workers are not exposed to such hazards.”
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If you need help in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to an IRS, DOL, Justice Department, or other federal or state agencies or other private plaintiff or other legal challenges to your organization’s existing workforce classification or other labor and employment, compliance, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872 .
Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit and management policies and practices. The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer often has worked, extensively on these and other workforce and performance related matters. She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For more information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to get access to other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.
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