A single federal agency is responsible for regulating and enforcing safety rules in New Jersey and other U.S. workplaces – all 7 million of them. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors also investigate complaints and workplace accidents. OSHA’s staff isn’t large enough to cover all this ground in one year, so the agency prioritizes.
At the top of the list are inspections of companies where worker injuries and deaths already have occurred or could happen due to an imminent hazard. OSHA issues citations to safety violators and recommends fines. A follow-up inspection reveals whether a company has corrected unsafe conditions.
OSHA inspected a cross-dock in 2012 owned by National Distribution Center LP, known as NFI, headquartered in New Jersey. Cross-dock workers unload incoming goods and shift them immediately to outgoing docks. OSHA acted on a complaint and discovered several violations, including a failure to provide workers with foot protection.
The chances of foot injuries among employees were high, as workers crisscrossed paths with forklifts conveying goods from one dock to the other. NFI appealed but later dropped a challenge against the citations. A settlement was reached and approved in January.
As the case was winding down, OSHA learned an NFI worker at the facility suffered a forklift-related foot injury. A second cross-dock inspection was conducted. Inspectors discovered NFI purchased the foot protection but apparently never distributed the foot coverings to workers.
This time around, NFI was cited for failure to abate. The repeat violation prompted OSHA to recommend a fine of more than $308,000, a figure based on accumulated fines for every day employees worked under unsafe conditions. The company is appealing the agency’s recommendations.
OSHA fines have no direct connection to the losses suffered by individual injured workers. Benefits for medical care and wage losses are paid through an employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. Additional monetary relief is sometimes possible through third-party liability claims.
Source: EHS Today, “Lack of Foot Protection Carries a $308,435 Price Tag for New Jersey Logistics Firm” Josh Cable, Jul. 24, 2014