New OSHA Enforcement Policy Under General Duty Clause for Worksite Exposure to Air Contaminants
By Gabrielle Sigel
OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs recently issued an enforcement memorandum to all OSHA Regional Administrators providing a new “Enforcement Policy for Respiratory Hazards Not Covered by OSHA Permissible Exposure Limits” (“Enforcement Policy”). OSHA’s 2003 policy on the same topic is now superseded and archived.
The Enforcement Policy explains how and when OSHA will cite an employer for respiratory hazards from an air contaminant under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause (“GDC”). The GDC is the statutory requirement that an employer “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1). By regulation, OSHA has stated that “An employer who is in compliance with any standard in this part shall be deemed to be in compliance with the requirement of section 5(a)(1) of the Act, but only to the extent of the condition, practice, means, method, operation, or process covered by the standard.” 29 CFR 1910.5(f). There is an open question as to whether and when an employer is in violation of the law if either (a) OSHA has not set a regulatory exposure limit for a particular chemical; or (b) exposures are below OSHA’s regulatory Permissible Exposure Limit (“PEL”), but above another organization’s recommended occupational exposure limit (“OEL”) for the same chemical. An OEL can be issued by, for example, an industry group, U.S. EPA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.
OSHA’s new Enforcement Policy states that a GDC violation for airborne chemical exposures cannot be alleged unless OSHA can meet the 4-element standard of proof imposed by the courts for any GDC violation:
The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed;
The hazard was recognized;
The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and,
There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.
The Enforcement Policy provides that exceeding an OEL is not sufficient evidence on its own to support a GDC citation; all four of the above GDC proof elements must be met. However, even if all four elements cannot be proven, OSHA still can issue a Hazard Alert Letter (“HAL”) if exposures are above an OEL. The Enforcement Policy includes a sample HAL.
The Enforcement Policy also provides examples of the evidence that OSHA needs to prove a GDC violation for airborne exposures above an OEL. With respect to the first element—that employees were exposed—OSHA can rely on air sampling and other workplace-based evidence, including witness statements. However, in contrast to many OSHA requirements when there is a regulatory PEL, in GDC cases, OSHA will consider whether the exposed employee is wearing respiratory protection. Unlike the 2003 version of the policy, the 2018 Enforcement Policy specifically states that “if the exposed employees were wearing appropriate respiratory protection with no deficiencies in the respirator program, then the likelihood that OSHA could establish a respiratory hazard covered by the general duty clause would be low.” However, OSHA does not preclude a GDC citation if respirators are used; the Enforcement Policy provides the exception for a respirator program only if that program has “no deficiencies.”
With respect to element #2—hazard recognition—the Enforcement Policy states that this element is met if: (a) there is direct evidence of employer knowledge; or (b) if the employer should have known of the hazard. Direct evidence can include prior receipt of a HAL or information regarding the hazard in a Safety Data Sheet prepared by a chemical’s manufacturer. Indirect evidence can include an OEL issued by an industry association, professional organization, or a non-OSHA government agency. With respect to GDC proof elements #3 and #4, OSHA states it likely will be required to present expert testimony to prove its case. However, that expert can rely on published studies and need not necessarily conduct a new study of the dangers of the hazard at that particular worksite.
The Enforcement Policy does not expressly address whether OSHA will pursue GDC violations for chemicals for which OSHA has issued a PEL. As written, the new Policy does not prohibit a GDC citation in those circumstances. The Enforcement Policy states that it applies when an air contaminant “is not covered” by an OSHA PEL, and does not include language restricting the policy to “those cases where an OSHA PEL has not been issued,” as the old version of the policy had stated. (Emphases added.) In addition, the new Policy refers Regional Administrators to the Field Operations Manual (“FOM”) for further guidance in preparing a GDC citation. The current FOM expressly states that a GDC citation may be issued when there are exposures above an OEL but below an OSHA PEL. FOM (8/02/2016) § III.D.2, Example 4‑25.
Therefore, under the Enforcement Policy, OSHA may assert that even employers with worksite air contaminant exposures below an OSHA PEL, as well as those using chemicals that do not have an issued OSHA PEL, are subject to a GDC citation, if there are unprotected worksite exposures above a recognized OEL.
OSHA Makes a Statement on Hex Chrome Enforcement
By Andi Kenney
On January 19, 2018, OSHA issued a citation to Spirit Aerosystems, Inc., alleging one willful and five serious violations of the OSHA hexavalent chromium standard (29 CFR 1910.1026) and assessing $194,006 in penalties.
In the citation, OSHA alleges that the manufacturer of aerostructures (including portions of fuselages) willfully failed to prevent employee exposures to levels above the permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 5.0 ug/m3 8 hour time weighted average (TWA) and to implement feasible engineering and work practice controls “to reduce employee exposure to the lowest achievable level.” The citation notes an employee who was sanding and grinding was exposed to hexavalent chromium at 9.0 ug/m3 on a time weighted average, 1.8 times the PEL.
The citation further alleges that Spirit Aerosystems did not perform periodic monitoring every three months, did not perform monitoring when process changed, did not demarcate a regulated area for hex chrome, allowed employees to leave the hex chrome work area without removing contaminated clothing and equipment, and did not adequately train employees regarding the OSHA hex chrome standard.
The citation is notable for several reasons. First, it is an indication that OSHA is still actively enforcing the hex chrome standard. Second, it underscores OSHA’s position that an increased scheduled work load is a process change that would require additional exposure monitoring. Third, it affirms that the aircraft painting exception, which establishes a 25 ug/m3 exposure limit, does not apply to grinding and sanding operations. Finally, it raises questions about how far an employer has to go to reduce exposures—does the employer’s obligation to implement controls require it to reduce exposure “to the lowest achievable level” as alleged in the citation or does the employer meet its obligation if it reduces exposure to the PEL?
2017: The Corporate Environmental Lawyer Year in Review
By Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence
As 2017 draws to an end, we wanted to thank everyone that follows our Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog. 2017 has been an interesting year and we have enjoyed providing information on critical environmental, health and safety issues for the regulated community. As part of the year in review, we thought it might be interesting to highlight the most popular posts from each of the four quarters in 2017.
Trump Administration: 2017 Insights
New State 1,4-Dioxane Drinking Water Standard-New York Threatens to Take Action if U.S. EPA Doesn’t
World Water Day: Wednesday, March 22, 2017--Jenner & Block Announces Special Water Series
Trump Administration Issues Freeze on New and Pending Rules – Halting Dozens of Recent EPA Rules
Great Lakes Compact Council Holds Hearing on Cities Initiative Challenge to Waukesha Diversion of Lake Michigan Water
Federal Judge Orders Dakota Access Pipeline to Revise Environmental Analysis; Leaves Status of Pipeline Construction Undecided
Litigation in D.C. Circuit Court Put on Hold While EPA Reconsiders 2015 Ozone Air Quality Standards
Attorney-Client Privilege Does Not Protect Communications with Environmental Consultants
News of OECA’s Demise May be Greatly Overstated
EPA Announces Proposed Rule to Rescind ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule
Court Decision Remanding FERC’s Evaluation of GHG Emissions May Derail $3.5B Pipeline
Hurricane Harvey and Act of God Defense—Viable Defense or Futile Prayer
Who is in Charge of Protecting the Environment—The Role of U.S. EPA and State Environmental Agencies During a Hurricane
Shell Latest Target of CWA Climate Change Citizen Suit
New Climate Change Lawsuit: Publicity Stunt or Reasonable Effort to Protect California Property Owners?
Cities Risk Ratings Downgrade for Failure to Address Climate Change Risks
Dumpster Diving Results in $9.5M Penalty Recovery for California
Following Keystone Pipeline Oil Spill, Judge Orders Parties to Prepare Oil Spill Response Plan for Dakota Access Pipeline
EPA Publishes Proposed Rule on Reporting Requirements for the TSCA Mercury Inventory
Imagine a Day Without Water
We look forward to continuing to blog on breaking environmental, health and safety issues and we are sure that we will have plenty to blog about in 2018. Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season.
Steve Siros and Allison Torrence
Third-Annual Environmental Attorney Reception at Jenner on Thursday 9/14
By Allison A. Torrence
On Thursday, September 14th, from 5 pm to 7 pm, environmental attorneys and professionals will come together for a networking reception at Jenner & Block's offices in Chicago. Complimentary food and drinks will be provided thanks to the event’s sponsors. This is the third year Jenner & Block has hosted this event, which continues to grow every year. Jenner & Block will be joined by a number of bar associations and organizations:
CBA Environmental Law Committee
CBA Young Lawyers Section Environmental Law Committee
ISBA Environmental Law Section
ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
Air & Waste Management Association Lake Michigan States Section
DRI Toxic Tort and Environmental Law Committee
Jenner & Block partner Allison Torrence is a former Chair of the CBA Environmental Law Committee and will be giving brief welcome remarks.
Details for this event are below. If you would like to join us at this reception, please RSVP here.
Environmental Attorney Reception
September 14, 2017 | 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Jenner & Block Conference Center | 45th Floor | 353 N. Clark St. | Chicago, IL 60654
OSHA Electronic Reporting Website Temporarily Suspended Due to Security Breach
By Allison A. Torrence
Not long after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) launched its Injury Tracking Application website for Electronic Submission of Injury and Illness Records on August 1, 2017, OSHA has temporarily suspended user access to the site due to an apparent security breach. Reports indicate that last week, OSHA received an alert from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team in the Department of Homeland Security that indicated there was a potential compromise of user information for the injury tracking application. OSHA has stated that one company appears to have been affected and that company has been notified of the issue.
The Injury Tracking Application website currently has the following message posted:
Alert: Due to technical difficulties with the website, some pages are temporarily unavailable.
OSHA has not indicated when the website will be fully available again or whether any additional changes will result from this apparent breach. The current deadline for employers to submit injury and illness logs electronically is December 1, 2017.
OSHA Accepting Electronic Injury and Illness Reporting Submissions
By Allison A. Torrence
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has officially launched its Injury Tracking Application website for Electronic Submission of Injury and Illness Records to OSHA. The website launch has been much anticipated following the Trump Administration’s delay of the compliance deadline in the 2016 rule titled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses” (the Electronic Reporting Rule). As we previously reported on this blog, the Obama-era Electronic Reporting Rule required employers to submit injury and illness logs electronically, and the original compliance deadline was July 1, 2017. In June, OSHA extend the initial submission deadline for 2016 Form 300A data to December 1, 2017, to provide the new administration an opportunity to review the new electronic reporting requirements prior to their implementation and allow affected entities sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the new electronic reporting system.
Under the Electronic Reporting Rule, establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must electronically submit information from OSHA Forms 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), and 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report). Establishments with 20-249 employees that are classified in certain industries with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses must electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A.
Under OSHA’s proposed rule to extend the compliance deadline in the electronic reporting rule, all covered establishments must submit information from their completed 2016 Form 300A by December 1, 2017. In 2018, covered establishments with 250 or more employees must submit information from all completed 2017 forms (300A, 300, and 301) by July 1, 2018, and covered establishments with 20-249 employees must submit information from their completed 2017 Form 300A by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019 and every year thereafter, covered establishments must submit the information by March 2.
OSHA has now activated a secure website that offers three options for data submission. First, users can manually enter data into a web form. Second, users will be able to upload a CSV file to process single or multiple establishments at the same time. Last, users of automated recordkeeping systems will have the ability to transmit data electronically via an API (application programming interface).
OSHA’s website provides additional guidance and answers some FAQs on the new electronic reporting requirements.
OSHA Proposes 5-Month Delay in Electronic Reporting Requirements
By Allison A. Torrence
On June 28, 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a Proposed Rule (82 FR 29261) to delay compliance dates in the Obama Administration’s 2016 rule titled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses”. As we previously reported on this blog, the Obama-era rule required employers to submit injury and illness logs electronically, and the original compliance deadline was July 1, 2017. OSHA is now stating that the electronic reporting system will not be operational until August 1, 2017.
OSHA explains its justification for the delay in its proposed rule:
This action proposes to extend the initial submission deadline for 2016 Form 300A data to December 1, 2017, to provide the new administration an opportunity to review the new electronic reporting requirements prior to their implementation and allow affected entities sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the electronic reporting system, which will not be available until August 1.
The proposed rule does not impact other parts of the Obama rule, such as the rules prohibiting retaliation against employees who report a work-related injury or illness to an employer, which went into effect on August 10, 2016, and OSHA began enforcing on December 1, 2016.
Comments on the proposed 5-month delay of the compliance deadline are due by July 13, 2017. Comments may be submitted by mail, fax or electronically on www.regulations.gov.
OSHA Delays Electronic Recordkeeping and Reporting Rule
By Allison A. Torrence
As of yesterday, May 17th, OSHA updated its website to indicate it will be extending the deadline for employers to submit injury and illness logs electronically on the OSHA website. The requirement to submit injury and illness logs electronically was part of a recent OSHA regulation, issued on May 12, 2016, which also addresses retaliation against employees who report a work-related injury or illness to an employer. 81 Fed. Reg. 29624-94.
Currently, the OSHA recordkeeping website states that:
OSHA is not accepting electronic submissions of injury and illness logs at this time, and intends to propose extending the July 1, 2017 date by which certain employers are required to submit the information from their completed 2016 Form 300A electronically. Updates will be posted to this webpage when they are available.
OSHA has not published an official notice in the Federal Register or otherwise regarding extending the July 1st deadline. News outlets are reporting that OSHA spokeswoman Mandy Kraft said that the agency delayed the rule to address employers’ “concerns about meeting their reporting obligations” in time.
The language on the OSHA website suggests OSHA will take further action to formalize the extension. It is not clear whether any formal extension of the electronic reporting requirements will have any impact on the anti-retaliation regulations, found in the same rule. The Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog will report on any developments with this OSHA rule.
Jenner & Block Hosting Environmental Risk CLE Presentation with CBA and A&WMA
By Allison A. Torrence
On Thursday, May 11th, from 12-1 pm, Jenner & Block will host a CLE presentation on Environmental Risk: Best Practices in Spotting, Evaluating, Quantifying and Reporting Risk. Business risk associated with environmental issues is an important topic that is often not fully understood by in-house counsel or outside attorneys and consultants. Effectively spotting, evaluating and managing environmental risk plays an important role in the success of a business and should be understood by all environmental attorneys and consultants advising businesses. This program will help you improve your ability to spot, evaluate, quantify and report on risk to provide value for your clients and their businesses.
Jenner & Block is pleased to be joined by members of the CBA Environmental Law Committee and the Air & Waste Management Association.
The presentation will be moderated by Christina Landgraf, Counsel, Environmental, Health & Safety, United Airlines, Inc. and Jenner Partner Allison Torrence. The panel of speakers will include Jenner Partner Lynn Grayson, Kristen Gale, Associate, Nijman Franzetti and Jim Powell, Director, Environmental Permitting, Mostardi Platt.
The CLE presentation will be held at Jenner & Block, 353 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL – 45th Floor, from 12-1 pm. Lunch will be provided starting at 11:45 am. If you are unable to attend in person, you can participate via webinar.
You can RSVP here.
Any questions can be directed to Pravesh Goyal: (312) 923-2643 or firstname.lastname@example.org
OSHA Violation Doesn’t Abrogate Workers’ Compensation Immunity
By Steven M. Siros
Most state workers’ compensation regulations provide an intentional tort exception for employers' workers’ compensation immunity. A Louisiana district court recently rejected a plaintiffs’ effort to trigger this intentional tort exception to workers’ compensation immunity by citing an OSHA “willful” violation as proof that their employer consciously desired that plaintiffs’ suffer their alleged injuries. In the case at issue, plaintiffs were overcome by fumes when they were ordered to clean a tank rail car that contained hazardous chemicals. Their employer was cited for OSHA violations and several of those violations fell into the “willful” category. The court found that these allegations insufficient to meet Louisiana’s “extremely high” standard necessary to avoid the workers’ compensation bar. Hernandez v. Dedicated TCS, LLC (E.D. La. 3/3/17).
Last year, several courts in Washington and Kentucky had similarly ruled that state workers’ compensation laws provided the exclusive remedy for employees injured in the course of their employment notwithstanding OSHA willful violations. But a U.S. District Court in Idaho recently ruled that employees could pursue tort claims after they were ordered to retrieve radioactive plates without proper protection gear in violation of applicable OSHA regulations.
Trump Adminstration: 2017 Insights
By E. Lynn Grayson
This week I published an article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin Trump election puts environment into less than green state. In this article, I discuss my thoughts on environmental issues during the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. I specifically address: 1) what authority President Trump has to implement environmental changes; 2) what environmental actions have been taken to date; 3) insights into future environmental changes we are likely to see; and 4) reaction from the environmental community.
If you would like to hear more about what’s happening on the environmental front in the Trump administration, please join us next Tuesday, March 7 at Noon for a program titled Environmental, Health & Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration. My partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros and Allison Torrence will be providing the latest updates on what we know and what we can anticipate from the Trump administration in connection with environmental, health and safety considerations.
If you would like to join us for this program or participate via webinar, please RSVP here.
Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence Speak at March 7 CLE Program
By E. Lynn Grayson
Jenner & Block Partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence will speak at the upcoming program Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration, hosted by Jenner & Block’s Environmental, Workplace Health & Safety Practice Group on Tuesday, March 7 from 12:00 pm to 1:00 p.m. With the Trump Administration beginning to take shape, federal environmental, health, and safety (EHS) policy is certain to shift to the right. This CLE program will provide an overview of the Trump Administration’s actions impacting EHS matters to date and prognosticate on changes that may be forthcoming. You are invited to join us for this special program in person or via webinar. If you plan to participate, please RSVP as indicated below.
Tuesday, March 7, 12:00—1:00 p.m. with lunch starting at 11:45 a.m.
Jenner & Block, 353 North Clark, Chicago, IL—45th Floor Conference Center
For more information about the program and to RSVP, please connect here.
Happy New Year from the Corporate Environmental Lawyer Blog
By Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence
As we begin the New Year, we wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the major EHS developments in 2016 and think about what we can expect in 2017.
2016 was a busy year for the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog, which is now in its sixth year with over 760 posts. In 2016, we had nearly 100 blog posts from 10 different authors and over 6,700 visits to the site.
Our five most popular blogs from 2016 were:
EPA Lacks Authority to Regulate Plastic Microbeads in Water, by E. Lynn Grayson
Court Orders New EPA Spill Prevention Rules, by E. Lynn Grayson
Bipartisan TSCA Reform Act Signed by President Obama, by Allison A. Torrence
Navigating Hawkes, the Newest Wetlands Ruling from the Supreme Court, by Matt Ampleman
ExxonMobil, 13 State Attorneys General Fight Back Against the Exxon Climate Probes, by Alexander J. Bandza
As always, we are monitoring a variety of issues that are important to you and your business, including, for example, RCRA regulatory changes, the future of climate change regulation, implementation of the TSCA Reform Act, and new developments in environmental litigation. You can find current information about these developments and more on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog. If you don’t find what you are looking for on our blog, we welcome your suggestions on topics that we should be covering. In addition, keep abreast of new developments in the EHS area through our Twitter @JennerBlockEHS.
We also look forward to the opportunity to share our thoughts and insights with respect to current EHS issues with you at an upcoming program:
The program will take place at Jenner & Block’s Chicago office and also will be available as a webinar. We will post a formal invitation to the program in a few weeks.
We also invite you to visit our newly redesigned Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice website for more information about our practice. We look forward to another exciting year and to connecting with you soon.
New OSHA Penalties Announced
By Andi S. Kenney
On January 18, 2017, the Department of Labor published a final rule adjusting civil penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act for inflation as required by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015. As required by the Act, the adjustment is based on changes to the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers. Unlike last year’s catch-up adjustment, which increased penalties by 78%, this year’s inflation adjustment is a little over 1%. The new penalties compared to the pre-August 2016 penalties can be found here.
OSHA Issues Final Beryllium Rule Reducing Workplace Exposure Limit 10-Fold
By Allison Torrence
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule on Occupational Exposure to Beryllium in the Federal Register on January 9, 2017. The final rule reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 μg/m3, averaged over 8-hours. The previous PEL for beryllium, established more than 40 years ago, was 2.0 μg/m3. The rule also establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 μg/m3, over a 15-minute sampling period.
As we discussed previously on this blog, OSHA proposed this rule on August 7, 2015 and took extensive public comment before issuing this final version. OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in their workplaces and that the rule will save almost 100 lives from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year, once the effects of the rule are fully realized.
In addition to the PEL reductions, the final rule requires employers to use engineering and work practice controls (such as ventilation and change rooms) to limit worker exposure to beryllium; provide respirators when controls cannot adequately limit exposure; limit worker access to high-exposure areas; develop a written exposure control plan; and train workers on beryllium hazards. The rule also provides for medical exams to monitor exposed workers and medical removal protection benefits to workers identified with a beryllium-related disease.
The rule will take effect on March 10, 2017. Employers will have one year (until March 12, 2018) to comply with most of the requirements, two years (until March 11, 2019) to provide any required change rooms and showers, and three years (until March 10, 2020) to implement engineering controls.
More information on the Occupational Exposure to Beryllium rule is available on the OSHA website.