The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must stick to a six-month statute of limitations when citing a company for failure to record an injury or illness and cannot treat such an event as a continuing violation throughout the five-year recordkeeping period, according to an April 6 decision
by a federal appeals court. The decision overturned a position that had been in place since 1993.
In the court case, Louisiana-based AKM LLC (known as Volks Constructors) a member of ABC’s Pelican Chapter, was cited by OSHA in November 2006 for failures to record injuries and illnesses going back to 2002. The statute of limitations for issuing citations is six months from the date of the occurrence. The secretary of labor argued that Volks could be cited all the way back to January 2002 because the five-year recordkeeping period had not ended and the violations were still occurring when the inspection began.
When the company moved to have the citations dismissed for exceeding the statute of limitations, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld the secretary’s position, reaffirming a similar 1993 decision that such recordkeeping violation are continuous.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the secretary’s argument and called the agency’s interpretation “unreasonable.” Instead, the court ruled that a company’s failure to record an injury or illness is a distinct event, not an ongoing one, and the statute of limitations for OSHA to fine a company for such a violation is six months after the last violation occurred, not six months after the record-keeping period ends.
“Nothing in the statute suggests Congress sought to endow this bureaucracy with the power to hold a discrete record-making violation over employers for years, and then cite the employer long after the opportunity to actually improve the workplace has passed,” the decision stated.