Eighth Circuit Affirms OSHA's Authority to Change Interpretation of Safety Rules Over Time

more+
less-
more+
less-

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is known for taking broad and aggressive interpretations of its safety regulations. Conduct that may not appear to be covered under a rule can become the basis for a citation if OSHA believes it generally covers the work practice in question. Last month in a 2-1 decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with OSHA, granting the agency the discretion to change its interpretation of its rules over time in reaction to a changing safety environment.
 
Perez v. Loren Cook Co. involved a citation against a manufacturing company following an employee fatality. The employee was using a small lathe when the metal piece held by the lathe became dislodged and struck him on the head. OSHA cited the employer for failing to have a guard in place to prevent this type of accident. The employer appealed the citation, claiming that the regulation used by OSHA as the basis for the citation required guards in the event of hazards from ejected debris, but not to prevent dislodged equipment from striking the operator. A federal ALJ agreed, vacating the citation.
 
The Eighth Circuit disagreed, reversing the ALJ and reinstating the citation. The majority cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s Martin decision as authority for the proposition that OSHA has broad discretion to interpret its safety rules. The plaintiff pointed out that Martin requires OSHA to be reasonably consistent in its interpretation of its rules, and noted that the agency had taken various positions with regard to the applicability of the guarding rules to dislodged equipment. However, the Eighth Circuit concluded that as OSHA has more enforcement experience over time, its interpretations of its safety rules can change in reaction to developing safety needs.
 
The dissenting judge noted that even under Martin, OSHA’s interpretation was strained and unnecessary. When faced with a questionable OSHA citation, employers cannot simply rely on a plain language reading of the cited safety rules that appears to exclude the factual circumstances permitted. In appropriate cases, federal courts will back OSHA’s attempts to expand its rules beyond their apparent limitations without requiring a rulemaking procedure.

 

Written by:

Published In:

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP | Attorney Advertising

Don't miss a thing! Build a custom news brief:

Read fresh new writing on compliance, cybersecurity, Dodd-Frank, whistleblowers, social media, hiring & firing, patent reform, the NLRB, Obamacare, the SEC…

…or whatever matters the most to you. Follow authors, firms, and topics on JD Supra.

Create your news brief now - it's free and easy »

All the intelligence you need, in one easy email:

Great! Your first step to building an email digest of JD Supra authors and topics. Log in with LinkedIn so we can start sending your digest...

Sign up for your custom alerts now, using LinkedIn ›

* With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name.
×
Loading...
×
×