After multiple investigations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and several unpaid fines over the last decade, a New Jersey federal judge ordered a repeated OSHA violator (the defendant) to pay over $2 million in a summary judgment. In fact, the judge found the defendant personally liable for the amassed penalties. Despite mounting citations and investigations, the defendant had failed to pay the fines and continued to disregard worker safety. Similarly, on March 1, OSHA investigations revealed a long history of workplace hazards at a well-known nationwide discount retailer.
A Repeated OSHA Violator
After five OSHA inspections at four Bergen County worksites since December 2019, the agency found repeated and, allegedly, flagrant violations. According to the agency, the repeated OSHA violator, a Palisades Park contractor, continually put workers at risk of serious injuries. Meanwhile, the defendant repeatedly failed to pay associated fines. In brief, the investigations were as follows:
- December 2019 – two inspections at worksites in Cliffside Park and Fort Lee found a total of fourteen safety violations, resulting in penalties of $520,860 and $426,785, respectively.
- January 2020 – a third inspection at another Cliffside Park location resulted in five safety citations and a proposed $405,588 penalty.
- February 2020 – two more inspections at a Palisades Park location found several more violations and brought proposed penalties of $247,892 and $369,000.
Previously, in 2019, the defendant had already amassed $700,000 in unpaid OSHA penalties from similar violations. Nonetheless, the contractor continued to do business under the trade name.
Findings and Summary Judgment
In sum, OSHA identified 10 repeated, 11 willful, and 12 serious violations. Specifically, the violations involved several hazards including:
- failure to use fall, head, and eye protection;
- unsafe stepladder use;
- scaffolding violations;
- deficiencies in housekeeping and fire safety;
- lack of stair rails; and
- violating forklift training requirements.
Subsequently, the defendant contested the citations. Nonetheless, the judge found for the federal agency and granted a summary judgment, ordering a combined payment totaling $2,004,225 across all violations.
According to the judge’s decision, the defendant had dominated the company and “abused its corporate form to circumvent the [Occupational Safety and Health Act].” For that reason, the judge found the defendant personally liable for the company’s violations and subsequent penalties. “This ruling sends a clear message that business owners who abuse the system to avoid responsibility will be held legally accountable when they fail to uphold their obligation to provide a safe workplace and think they can ignore federal fines,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker.