You’ve Received an OSHA Citation: Step One
If you receive an OSHA citation, one of the things you certainly should not do is put the citation on the corner of your desk and tell yourself that you will take care of it “later.” Essentially, this is the equivalent of doing nothing and contrary to wishful thinking the citation is not going to vanish on its own with the passage of time. Often, after getting consumed by something else, “later” winds up being much later. This is not advisable. It is important to give an OSHA citation your immediate attention and consider your options and any potential defenses that may be raised. In fact, critical procedural rights – all of which may serve to save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in penalties – may be forever lost as time ticks away and you do nothing.
If there is one time frame to be familiar with, that time frame is 15 working days from your receipt of the citation. Indeed, within 15 working days of your receipt of the citation, among the things you may do is 1) request an informal conference with the OSHA area director; and/or 2) formally contest the citation. These are two critical rights that you do not want to waive. Importantly, if you request an informal conference that does not extend the time you have to contest the citation, which would remain 15 working days from your receipt of the citation.
You can accomplish a lot at an informal conference. You will have the opportunity to plead your case in a somewhat relaxed setting. As OSHA has advised, you can use the informal conference to do any of the following: i) obtain a better explanation of the violation cited; ii) obtain a more complete understanding of the specific standards that apply; iii) negotiate and enter into an informal settlement agreement; iv) discuss ways to correct violations; v) discuss issues concerning proposed penalties; vi) discuss proposed abatement dates; vii) resolve disputed citation and penalties; and viii) obtain answers to any other questions. You may also seek a reclassification of the violation to a less severe category. In many cases, this will mean a reduced penalty amount. (Under OSHA, there are generally six different kinds of violations – “willful,” “serious,” “other than serious,” “de minimis,” “failure to abate,” and “repeated” – and all have their own penalties.)
In order to contest a citation, you must submit a Notice of Intent to Contest (“Notice to Contest”) in writing to the OSHA area office. In doing so, you may contest any of the following: the citation; the penalty; and/or the abatement date. Any Notice to Contest must be made in good faith, and a proper Notice to Contest of any item suspends your legal obligation to abate and pay until the item contested has been resolved.
In summary, the most important takeaway from this post is that upon receipt of an OSHA citation you should resist the temptation to do nothing or simply reach for your checkbook. Instead, you should consider the potential defenses and also be aware of the deadlines for requesting an informal conference and/or contesting the citation.