The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in a unanimous ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, has been told that it cannot use a five-and-half-year statute of limitations as a standard for issuing fines for safety violation reporting.

The OSH Act allows just six months for citing a safety violation but requires that records on the incident be retained for five years, so OSHA argued that it had five years plus six months to issue citations for "recurring" violations. That is, if a violation occurs and six months later the company has still not filed the required report on it, the violaton will be considered "recurring" for the next five years. The Appeals Court disagreed and ruled that the six months' standard pertained.

The case involved citations issued in 2006 against Volks Constructors. The fines totaled just $13,300, but Volks filed an appeal to dismiss the citations as untimely because the OSH Act says that no “citation may be issued … after the expiration of six months following the occurrence of any violation.”

Ultimately, the court agreed. As a result, OSHA has just six months after a violation occurs to issue citations for either the incident or any lack of record-keeping.