OSHA Violations Must be Reported Within 6 Months, DC Circuit Says

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 12, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that reporting violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act could only be brought within a six-month period.

The appeals court decision reversed the decision of an administrative panel that gave a five-year statute of limitations on reporting OSHA violations.

Why the drastic difference in the administrative panel decision and the holding of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals?

The statute in question, Section 9(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, states that citations may not be issued after "the expiration of six months following the occurrence of any violation."

Nevertheless, OSHA fined Volks Constructors in 2006, for violations that occurred as early as 2002.

The citations were appealed to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and were upheld as timely.

At the appellate level, the corporation's main argument was that the statute was clear on its face and that any larger statute of limitations placed an undue burden on the employer in trying to defend the case.

In response, the Secretary of Labor said that the violations were continuing violations and claimed that the statute of limitations extended up until its five-year document retention period.

The continuing violations theory, the court said, was applicable in the event that the violations were actually ongoing. But when based on an event or incident, the court held that the violations had a six-month cap on which they could be reported.

In this case, the injuries causing violation took place more than six months after the violations were reported.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, in rendering its holding, stated that the Secretary of Labor's argument relied on "an interpretation that is neither natural nor consistent with our precedents."

The administrative decision was reversed.

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