OSHA’s Return To Public Shaming

Cozen O'Connor
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Cozen O'Connor

Prior to the Trump administration, OSHA commonly engaged in the practice of “public shaming.” In other words, if an OSHA investigation found a relatively serious safety violation, it would issue a press release identifying the business, exposing their failings, and detailing the hazards discovered in the inspection. Often, these press releases would be picked up by other media sources and more widely circulated. The objective was that such media attention would serve an educational and deterrent purpose to other entities in the same industry and/or geographic area. During this time, OSHA also had a general policy of providing information about alleged violations upon request from media sources quickly. Critics of the policy argued that OSHA should not publicize enforcement cases until the citations have been fully resolved as a matter of due process. 

Although the public shaming/press release policy did not entirely cease under the Trump administration, it had been significantly reduced. Moreover, during the Trump administration, OSHA reversed its course on providing inspection information upon request and only provided citations in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, which could take several weeks to complete. 

In a press briefing on January 29, a senior representative of the Department of Labor stated that the prior policy had been revoked and OSHA would resume providing information through press releases and otherwise. 

As evidence of this policy reversal, Bloomberg Law recently reported that it was provided information on an inspection, which resulted in $404,811 in fines in less than 24 hours after its request.  There is little question that the businesses which are issued significant fines by OSHA will be more likely the target of “public shaming” moving forward and may want to consider press release strategies as part of the contest process.

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.

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