Contesting an OSHA Citation – Some Basics

An OSHA citation usually comes at the worst time. Actually, is there ever a good time? Probably not. But, what if after receiving a citation you realize you do not agree with it? Or, perhaps, you cannot deny that the violative conduct occurred, but you believe certain mitigating factors should be taken into account that might warrant dismissal of the citation or a reduction of the penalty. If these thoughts are coming to mind, you may have a basis to challenge the citation.

In order to contest an OSHA citation, there really are only two basic things you need. First, you must have a good faith basis for doing so. Second, you must contest the citation relatively quickly – within 15 working days of your receipt of the citation. (Beware: in view of the short time deadline for contesting, if you neglect to give a citation your immediate attention – telling yourself you will return to it later – you may unintentionally waive your right to contest the citation when, unbeknownst to you, the deadline passes.)

When contesting a citation, you are permitted to contest the citation itself, the penalty amount, and/or the abatement date. To do so, you simply submit a Notice of Intent to Contest in writing to the OSHA area director. A proper contest made in good faith will suspend your legal obligation to abate and pay until the item contested has been resolved. Importantly, once you contest a citation, you do not lose your ability to settle the case. As a result, you will still have an opportunity to discuss settlement of the citation with OSHA.

While many factors may rightfully be considered when deciding whether to contest a citation, one thing to keep in mind is that even if the alleged violative conduct did occur, there still may be certain defenses to raise. For example, it may have been an isolated incident, management may not have known about it, or a greater hazard could have been posed by compliance with the standard. These factors touch upon only a few of many defenses that exist. As a result, it is worth spending the time to investigate what, if any, defenses may apply. If you are not sure, you should consider consulting with counsel to further investigate.


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