A World of OSHA Violations

DOL memo stresses certainty of case over deterrence strategy

Department of Labor workers, namely OSHA, are being told to stand down when it comes to press releases publicizing citations.

These releases are usually about workplace violations; OSHA (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration) has long argued that making them public increases deterrence and effectively reduces future violations, while companies argue they can misrepresent them if the case is overturned.

The New York Times reported this week that a DOL memo tells officials to hold back on news releases about enforcement decisions, saying they can linger unfairly online if citations are overturned.

OSHA has been wholly criticized for most of its existence, most recently for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Most workers on the ground understand the nagging importance of safety measures, even if they chafe at the enforcer. Others bemoan the institution as an unnecessary branch since its inception in 1973. Some have gone so far as to parody the violations with a Willy Wonka-themed TikTok video (Editor’s note: Electrical Apparatus does not support or endorse the violation of any OSHA rules that may occur in this video):

Tuesday’s memo, available in PDF form here courtesty of the Times (you’ll want to use your zoom +/- feature to see properly), stresses that such press releases are intended for “education and remediation”. It is essentially warning departments like OSHA not to jump the gun in the interest of certainty in the long-term. It further suggests:

“In most cases, the appropriate timing for a release will be the point in time: after a court or other tribunal has rendered judgment or issued a decision; after a conviction or plea agreement has been obtained; after an agency has entered into a settlement or conciliation agreement with the named party regarding remedies or the payment of a penalty; or after the time for contesting a finding (such as a citation) has elapsed and the party has not contested or requested to negotiate.”

Before we disregard OSHA altogether, note that the administration has been steadily producing resources for the pandemic. These include some useful specifics in the current crisis: such as COVID Guidance for In-Home Repair Services (released October 7), COVID Guidance for Restaurants Resuming Dining Service, and Steps to Protect Cleaning Staff During COVID-19, all of which are available in Spanish.

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