OSHA: Revisions to Field Operations Manual Signal Increased Enforcement of Recordkeeping, Documentation Requirements

April 10, 2009

In late March, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced revisions to its Field Operations Manual (FOM). The FOM outlines OSHA's general enforcement policies and procedures for use by the agency in conducting inspections, issuing citations and proposing penalties.

The most significant change in the FOM involves the interpretation of OSHA's General Duty Clause. The General Duty Clause requires an employer to furnish a workplace "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to [its] employees." 29 U.S.C. ยง 654(a)(1). The revised FOM provides a lengthy list of sources that may demonstrate that the employer is aware of workplace hazards. Employer awareness of a hazard may be demonstrated by a review of company memorandums, safety work rules, operations manuals, standard operating procedures, records of prior accidents/incidents, near misses known to the employer, injury and illness reports, or workers' compensation data. If inspection of these documents demonstrates that an employer was aware of a potential hazard and failed to take reasonable steps to address it, the employer could be cited under the General Duty Clause.

The revised manual also affirms the importance of keeping accurate accident and injury logs. Although a review of these logs is already part of most worksite inspections, the revised FOM requires compliance officers to review accident and injury reports for the previous three years. Employers must be aware of OSHA's stringent recordkeeping requirements or risk the issuance of proposed penalties.

Notably, this directive coincides with recent remarks by Richard Fairfax, Director of OSHA's Directorate of Enforcement Programs, indicating that OSHA will establish a National Emphasis Program on Recordkeeping within the next six months. Under this initiative, OSHA will emphasize the accurate reporting and recording of workplace injuries and illnesses by examining employer records.

Recent statements by newly-confirmed Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis indicate that OSHA plans to step up its efforts in investigating and punishing health and safety violations. The revised FOM is merely the latest manifestation of the new administration's commitment to vigorous enforcement of OSHA standards.

Click here to review the revised Field Operations Manual.

For more information on OSHA compliance, contact Robert Dimling or Andrew Kaake in the Labor and Employment Department at Frost Brown Todd LLC.