Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a well-known logistics company for exposing workers to various safety hazards at three warehouse facilities in Florida, Illinois, and New York. The safety hazards included ergonomic and struck-by hazards. Referrals from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York prompted OSHA to open inspections at the three warehouses on July 18th, 2022, and in three more locations on August 1st, 2022. Later, in December 2022, OSHA cited the same logistics company for recordkeeping violations as a part of the same investigation. Violations of the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) can result in significant fines and penalties. Earlier, OSHA fined two contractors nearly $700,000 after an OSHA inspection.
Overview of the Safety Hazards
At the Florida, Illinois, and New York locations, OSHA investigators found that warehouse workers were at high risk for lower back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from ergonomic safety hazards. These ergonomic hazards included:
- tasks requiring employees to frequently lift packages and other items;
- the heavy weight of those items;
- awkward postures like twisting, bending, and long reaches while lifting; and
- long hours required to complete tasks.
What’s more, on-site injury logs revealed that the company’s warehouse workers experienced high rates of MSDs. Meanwhile, at the Florida location, OSHA investigators found struck-by hazards. After the inspections, OSHA issued the company hazard alert letters. Specifically, hazard alert letters notify employers in specific agencies of safety hazards that are particularly concerning.
Employer’s Duty to Prevent Workplace Safety Hazards
The OSH Act, which established OSHA, sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards. In doing so, it assures safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women. Notably, the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause requires that all employers:
- shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized safety hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; and
- shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
To comply with the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause and to avoid OSHA safety violations and costly litigation, employers should recognize and fix common workplace hazards. Indeed, these common workplace safety hazards include ergonomic and struck-by hazards.
Penalties for Failing to Address Safety Hazards
In the end, OSHA proposed $60,269 in penalties for these violations. The company has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or contest the findings. OSHA also urges employers to consider the workplace safety implications of high-demand, efficient operations. According to the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, Doug Parker, “Each of these inspections found work processes that were designed for speed but not safety, and they resulted in serious worker injuries,” encouraging employers to “…make the safety and health of their workers a core value.”
Under the General Duty Clause, all employers are obligated to protect their employees from recognized safety hazards likely to cause ergonomic-related injuries in the workplace. Often referred to as MSDs, ergonomic injuries are injuries or illnesses affecting the connective tissues of the body, such as muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, or spinal disks. MSDs can cost employers $20 billion per year in direct costs and an additional $25 billion per year in indirect costs. To help employers prevent costly injuries, Personnel Concepts created the Ergonomics Safety Training Program for Employees. This program provides an overview of ergonomics, common types of MSDs, how to identify ergonomic hazards, and best practices for preventing related injuries. Employers also receive a downloadable compliance guide of checklists and handouts.