An Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fine for “willful violation” of a regulation will stand, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court has ruled, declaring that ignorance of a regulation is no defense.

court-rules-ignorance-is-no-excuse-for-osha-violationAs a result, the $49,000 fine against Georgia-based Martin Mechanical Contractors will go forward.

The company had argued that the violation could not have been willful since the on-site supervisor was unaware of the regulation in question. The court, however, succinctly ruled that Martin Mechanical Contractors would not be allowed “to use its ineffective training as a defense against OSHA’s most serious charge.”

The violation stemmed from the fatality of a Martin Mechanical HVAC installer who fell through an uninstalled skylight opening 15 feet to his death.

The  employees on the site did not wear fall-arrest systems, even though Martin Mechanical’s foreman had them in his truck. When OSHA issued the fine, company officials argued that it could not have been willful since the foreman was unaware of the fall-arrest system regulation. After an administrative law judge upheld the fine, Martin Mechanical appealed to the 11th Circuit Court.

The OSHA website lists four levels of violations:

  • WILLFUL: A willful violation is defined as a violation in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.
  • SERIOUS: A serious violation exists when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation.
  • REPEATED: A company may be cited for a repeated violation if the company has been cited previously for the same or a substantially similar condition and, for a serious violation.
  • OTHER-THAN-SERIOUS: A violation that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but is not serious in nature, is classified as “other-than-serious.”

According to OSHA, the top fine for a willful violation is $129,336.