Although there are many opportunities to avoid an OSHA citation and penalty, having received one does not mean the end of options for the employer.This page will go through the options you have and the actions you should take when faced with an OSHA citation.
A citation is simply the formal notification of violations and is accompanied by the proposed penalty amount. If unchallenged, the employer is legally required to abate the violations and pay the associated penalty within the time stated in the notice. However, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act employers have the right to contest the citation(s) and/or penalty by either an Informal Conference or through a Formal Contest.
What To Do If A Citation Is Received
1. Review and Respond
The first step to take after receiving the citation is to read and follow all of the instructions that are provided within the notification, which can include posting the citation and notification of penalty, notice to employees, and any special circumstances regarding contest procedures.
2. Set Up A Meeting
The immediate next step is to establish the end date of your contest period. Depending on whether your state operates under federal OSHA or operates its own state OSHA program, the contest period is usually 15 days from the date the citation is received by the employer, not the date it was issued or mailed by OSHA.
An Informal Conference is just that, an informal meeting at an OSHA regional office with the OSHA Area Director who issued the citation and perhaps the inspector who conducted the inspection. This type of meeting is quite common and is used to hear both sides of the situation and allows an employer to raise any special circumstances that the inspector was not aware of or to explain unique industry standards and practices that OSHA is not familiar with. Area Directors have the authority to adjust an issued citation as well as reduced associated penalties within limits during the Informal Conference and issue a binding settlement agreement.
A Formal Contest is also just that, a formal request to contest a citation and or penalty at an administrative trial hearing (Occupational Safety and Health Review Comission). This option works just like any other legal procedure where the commission will look at the evidence from both parties, hear arguments, and then render a final and binding decision.
Have the citation reviewed as soon as possible. While a citation looks fairly straight-forward, there could be numerous areas where mistakes have been made on the part of OSHA as well as industry specific exceptions that have been over looked or misinterpreted (For example, see OSHA's letters of interpretation to John Runyan and Wendy Lechner).
If you have never reviewed a citation, it is strongly recommended that you seek out the advice of an industry expert in order to compare the citation with other similar citations and circumstances. Printing Industries of America has extensive knowledge in this area and has uncovered many inaccurate or inapplicable cited violations.
Ideally, a review will be in conjunction with supporting information and details that the employer collected regarding the actual OSHA inspection; however, even without this site-specific detail, critical information can still be gleaned from the citation wording itself. The citation review should establish whether there is any conflicting information. For instance, does the cited regulation pertain to an application that was not present or not in use at the operation? The review should also determine the impact of the citation(s) on the operation, the applicability and practicality of the associated abatement, as well as what aspects to challenge for a particilar citation and item. Finally the review should give the employer a strategy for presenting at an Informal Conference, Formal Conference hearing, or both. It is very common to attend the Informal Conference first and then request a Formal Contest. Keep in mind that either one of these options must be requested within the contest period.
4. Use Your Rights
At times, some employers feel that because OSHA issued a citation, it must therefore be valid, or they may be convinced of the violation as described to them by OSHA. Regardless of how accurate or applicable you may feel the citation is, it is always recommended that you schedule an informal conference to either negotiate the citations or as a means to clarify alternatives.
Many times the Area Director will try to work with an employer on establishing a practical abatement solution and will work within their limits on penalty reductions if honest efforts for compliance are being made by the employer. It’s important to note that sometimes the penalty reductions are calculated ahead of issuing the citation, and there may not be an opportunity for further penalty reduction unless it can be effectively shown that a particular citation should be reclassified or removed.
It is also important to note that if an employer does not request an informal conference meeting, the Area Director will have no additional information to consider and therefore nothing to change their position. Again, left unchallenged, the employer is legally required to abate all of the violations and pay the associated penalties within the time stated in the notice.
Even if an employer does request an Informal Conference, it is still recommended to have ready a written request for a Formal Contest in the event that the Informal Conference proves unsuccessful and the standing abatement requirements are unable to be met. Formal Contests are less common and require more time and effort, but in situations where there is a complicated set of circumstances, or where OSHA is needlessly unyielding, or the current rules will dramatically hinder an otherwise safe operation, this option can be an effective method for presenting a challenge.
You Have Options
There is no way to avoid an OSHA inspection, but there are many ways to avoid or minimize OSHA citations through compliance efforts. If you do receive an OSHA citation, remember your options and seek the help of Printing Industries of America as soon as possible.
You can review your rights and responsabilities for responsing to a citation by visiting OSHA's website: Employer Rights and Responsibilities Following an Inspection.
The best option is to be prepared! Learn more about what safety requirements your facility needs to meet by reviewing our OSHA Primer and making Safety Posters a part of your safety program. Both resources are available for free to Printing Industries of America members.
Better prepare yourself for an inspection by viewing our webinar: How to Prepare for the New Aggressive OSHA Inspections and article: Responding to an OSHA Inspection.
For more information, assistance with OSHA compliance, or responding to a citation, contact Gary Jones by clicking here or at 800-910-4283, ext. 794.