The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) rules on cases arising from contested enforcement actions of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Its purpose is to provide a timely and fair resolution of those cases, which involve the alleged exposure of workers to unsafe or unhealthy working conditions.

The OSHRC was established by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It is an independent, quasi-judicial agency headquartered in Washington, DC, with regional offices in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, and Denver. The agency consists of three commissioners, one of whom is designated as chairperson, a legal staff, national and regional judges, and assorted other staff. In November 1998, Thomasina Rogers became the first African American to serve as one of the OSHRC commissioners.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act affects virtually every employer in the United States. The act is enforced by the Secretary of Labor primarily through OSHA. It requires employers to provide workers with a safe and healthy environment. In recent years specific areas of concern have included, among others, exposure to hazardous materials and process safety management in the oil and gas industries.

OSHA conducts safety and health inspections to insure compliance with the act. Cases are forwarded to the OSHRC by the Department of Labor when OSHA's rulings and enforcement actions are contested either by an employer, an employee, or an employee representative. An employer may contest any alleged job safety or health violation found during an OSHA inspection as well as the penalties assessed and the time allowed for correction of such violations. Employees or their representatives may also challenge the appropriateness of the time allowed to correct a hazardous situation. All such challenges must be made within 15 working days after OSHA has issued a citation against an employer.

Within the OSHRC there are two levels of adjudication. If the case requires a hearing, it is assigned to an administrative law judge, usually in the community where the alleged violation has occurred. In such a hearing the Secretary of Labor usually has the burden of proving a violation has occurred. Upon completion of the hearing the judge issues a decision based on the facts presented.

In many cases the decisions of the administrative law judges are final. However, each decision may be reviewed at the discretion of one of the three OSHRC commissioners within 30 days. In cases where such a review takes place the OSHRC issues its own decision, which supersedes that of the administrative law judge. Once a case has been decided, either by a judge or by the commission, it may be appealed to the United States Courts of Appeals.

As an independent agency, the OSHRC does not always agree with OSHA. A 1998 decision required OSHA to revise its rules regarding personal protective equipment before OSHA could require employers to pay for such equipment. In what one writer called "the most significant Review Commission decisions of the last 15 years," the OSHRC blocked OSHA's attempt to obtain a "per employee" penalty for a safety violation. That decision resulted in a modification to OSHA's policy of obtaining penalties based on the number of employees affected by violations so willful that they were considered "egregious."

The main office of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission is located in Washington, DC and has a site on the World Wide Web. The rules and regulations of the OSHRC are contained in Title 29, Section XX, of the Code of Federal Regulations.

SEE ALSO : Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

[ David P Bianco ]


"OSHRC Clamps Down on Egregious Policy," Occupational Hazards, November 1995.

Sapper, Arthur G. "Will Arcadian and Hartford Roofing End Per-Employee Penalties?" Occupational Hazards, February 1996.

"Thomasina Rogers Named to Federal Job Safety, Health Tribunal," Jet, 23 November 1998.

Wheeler, Susan V. "OSHA Will Not Appeal PPR Ruling," Boating Industry, February 1998.

Yokay, Stephen C., and Arthur G. Sapper. "Recent Significant Decisions by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission," Employee Relations Law Journal, Spring 1996.

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