Welcome to the OSHA Chronicle!

Well, 2017 is upon us and one of my New Year’s resolution is to start an OSHA related blog and this is one resolution I am committed to keeping (unlike a few others that have already fell by the wayside unfortunately).

I know it may not sound like a particularly interesting subject for a blog or perhaps a bit unusual to some, but if you are reading this, I suspect you probably do not fall into either of those camps.  We are the safety and health “nerds” of the world and a group which, to be blunt, probably doesn’t get enough recognition but that’s a subject for a future blog.

To start, I wanted to share some of the reasons workplace safety is so important to me and also talk about some of my hopes and objectives in writing this blog.

Let me start with who I am.  My formal legal background can be viewed under the “About the Author” link on this blog.  For additional information about my experience, I welcome you to visit my bio on Cozen O’Connor’s website located here.

For my entire professional career I have been involved with workplace safety and health issues.  Immediately after law school, I started as a trial attorney with the United States Department of Labor where I prosecuted, among other laws, OSHA.  At DOL, I quickly grew to understand the importance of workplace safety and witnessed the tragedies that could take place when workplace safety is not a priority. 

After leaving DOL, I joined a boutique management side labor and employment law firm where I continued to practice heavily in the OSHA area and continue to do so today representing employers.

I believe having prosecuted and defended OSHA cases has given me a certain unique perspective.  Over the many years, I occasionally get asked what the transition was like (and sometimes how I sleep at night) going from protecting the “little” guy to defending the huge corporation.  As all of our experiences shape who we are, let me spend a moment to answer this question as it may give some perspective on my commentary in this blog.

First, although I have represented my share of Fortune 500 companies, many of my clients are small family run businesses or mid-sized companies that do not have the luxury of having a dedicated safety expert on staff or experienced in-house lawyers to guide them.  Regardless of size though, I can say that virtually all of the clients I have represented over the years really do care about the safety of their employees and want to do the right thing.  OSHA may not believe this, but sometimes accidents do happen and it does not necessarily mean violations of standards caused them.  Of course, sometimes failing to comply with a standard is precisely what caused an accident.  The underlying facts may drive a certain defense strategy but it is the rare case that an employer is solely or even primarily just cares about the “bottom line” and is willing to compromise on core safety issues.  Equally important for both my clients and my own state of mind, from this side of the table, I am in a position to help employers develop and implement safety practices that will prevent or minimize the opportunities for injuries or illnesses as opposed to simply “punishing” employers who have already been cited.

On the other side, I have worked with some excellent and extremely professional OSHA and state investigators at DOL and while representing employers during audits.  Some investigators, however, conduct audits with a chip on their shoulders and are unwilling to listen or work with employers.   In addition, whether OSHA wants to believe it or not, the Agency is also an easy target to use by unions to create controversy for companies particularly in the middle of tough negotiations, go figure.

With this background in mind, I hope you will find my blog articles written in a fair way that takes into account my experiences from both sides.  To that end, I also welcome any questions about my DOL experience that might help shed light on a particular audit or DOL issue you may be facing or suggestions for articles about DOL process and procedure.

In terms of the format and content of the blog, I hope the blog will present a forum to share both my thoughts and yours.  I would love to hear from safety professionals and others in the industry about your thoughts on safety and health issues such as recently proposed standards, “war” stories that might help others in similar positions with making decisions, suggestions for timely article topics, strategies to handle audits or discreet issues and overall networking.

I would be happy to publish guest articles so if you have an idea please reach out to me.  Like many of you, I also enjoy meeting people in safety and health across the country and would be happy to connect people in terms of employment opportunities, expert referrals and related resources.  Please do not hesitate to share any of these items with me.  If we get critical mass at some point, I may have a link on the blog.

My goal will be to update this blog on at least a weekly basis.  I will certainly cover timely legal changes but I also plan to write about practical topics and happy to answer questions submitted to me.  Of course, like any good lawyer, the normal legal disclaimers will apply in terms of constituting legal advice – it doesn’t.  Like many blogs, this will not be written as a law review article but rather in a conversational tone to discuss all things safety and health related.  With the Trump administration, I am sure we will be seeing changes at OSHA in terms of enforcement and compliance assistance and as many of you know, there has probably been more regulatory changes to OSHA in the last few years than there has been in a long time so there is a lot to talk about.  Of course, whether some of these changes will continue with the new administration is an open question and we will be talking about that as well.

Here are some topics I will be getting into in the near future in hopes that you will return to the blog.

  • Potential Leadership Changes Under the New Administration
  • Increased OSHA penalties
  • New Fall Protection Rules
  • New Retaliation Rules Including Changes to Drug Testing Policies
  • New Electronic and Publically Accessible Reporting of Injuries/Illness Rules
  • Legal Challenges to New Rules
  • Workplace Violence Guidance
  • OSHA Audits – What You Need To Know

And many more to come.  Again, please let me know if you have any topics you would like covered.  I can be reached at jho@cozen.com

I look forward to taking this journey with you.

“Safety doesn’t happen by accident” – Author Unknown

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