Workplace Safety Violations Can Result in Civil Penalties for Employers
I’m Ed Smith, a Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Sacramento. The California Supreme Court has ruled that under the California OSHA, the state law empowers prosecutors to take action for seeking civil penalties from employers accused of safety violations in the workplace.
The decision has overturned an appellate court’s judgment and enabled a revival of the previous Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) prosecution.
Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court
The Supreme Court gave a unanimous verdict on February 8, 2018, declaring that the federal OSHA cannot precede civil claims that rose against the company, Solus Industrial, after a water heater blast in March 2009, in which two employees lost their lives at an industrial plant located at Rancho Santa Margarita.
As per court documents, Cal/OSHA scrutinized the unfortunate event and found out that the failure of a safety valve as well as the absence of additional appropriate safety features in the water heater due to mismanagement and incompetent handling led to the explosion.
According to Cal/OSHA, Solus had set up a water heater not intended for commercial but for residential use. The agency sanctioned five violations of occupational health and safety regulations against Solus.
Another Civil Lawsuit Against Solus Industrial
In addition, Cal/OSHA sent results of the investigation to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office that filed charges of wrongdoing against the company’s maintenance supervisor and plant manager for violating labor code. In a different civil lawsuit, the OCDA made claims that:
- Solus failed to adhere to the workplace safety criteria, which signified a deceitful, prejudicial, and illicit practice.
- Solus made a number of misleading and wrongful representations with respect to its assurance to safety at the workplace and its adherence to all pertinent workplace safety criteria and therefore violated California’s Fair Advertising Law (FAL) as well as Unfair Competition Law (UCL).
The OCDA went on to seek civil fines of almost $2,500 a day for each worker from November 29, 2007, to March 19, 2009. However, Solus claimed that the federal OSHA pre-empted the district attorney’s FAL and UCL claims and state laws. The appellate court was in agreement with the claim.
Orange County District Attorney Praises the Supreme Court
The OCDA commended the California Supreme Court for reversing the appellate court’s verdict. The appellate court is required to refer the issue to trial court to continue with more proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s view.
On February 8, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a press release that it was an unfortunate case where two people lost their lives while working to earn a livelihood. He also mentioned that they were thankful to the state Supreme Court for consistently viewing the law in the manner in which the Orange County DA’s Office did in order to ensure that they could continuously strive to keep the workplaces safe.
Tips for California Employers to Improve Workplace Safety
- Develop a Plan for Workplace Safety and Health
- Employers must determine workplace risks and implement methods to eradicate or abate them. Make a health and safety plan. Interact with your workers and convey the health and safety measures you plan to take.
- Make a System for Regular Workplace Safety Inspections
- Check and ensure the maintenance of all tools and equipment consistently. In addition, inspect storage areas and analyze safe work processes.
- Focus on Proper Worker Training
- Full-fledged training is essential for all workers. This can help prevent serious injuries in the workplace. Create written guidelines and safe work processes to enable your employees to check themselves whenever they are unsure of specific tasks or specific parts of their training.
- Periodically Discuss Safety Issues with Workers
- Organize regular meetings with your employees and talk about health and safety concerns. Urge them to share their insights and opinions on ways to augment safety in the workplace. It may also be helpful to provide first aid training to employees so they can deal with situations in an emergency.
- Investigate Every Incident
- Conduct an investigation into every incident, irrespective of whether it led to an injury. Try to identify its cause and ensure that the incident does not occur again in the future.
- Create a System for Record Maintenance
- Maintain records of all incident examinations, inspections, first aid treatment, and training activities. All this information allows you to determine trends in unsafe work processes or situations.
- Comply with the Legal Workplace Posting Requirements
- Workplace posting responsibilities under California law involve posting no-smoking signage, emergency contact numbers, and the state’s yearly summary of workplace illnesses and injuries. In addition, as an employer, you must make announcements covering both whistleblower safety and worker rights for acquiring access to health and exposure records.
Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
I am with the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. The forum is for trial attorneys who have won verdicts in excess of $1 Million for their clients.
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