The Occupational Safety and Health Association, or OSHA, is a government organization that oversees safety in the workplace. In general, it establishes what is considered a safe work environment, and the guidelines by which employers must keep employees informed regarding how to be safe at work. While New York has state-specific safety guidelines, there is a great deal of overlap in how a workplace should be kept safe, and who is considered liable when violations occur.
Employers are generally considered the people first and foremost responsible for OSHA violations. It is up to the employer to maintain a safe work place and provide adequate documentation for employees about safe work conditions. These documents include a wide range of materials, from workplace accident reports to medical records for the business. Training for new employees, and ongoing safety meetings and training, are the responsibility of employers. When OSHA violations occur, it is typically the employer who is liable for them and any consequences for those violations.
One interesting issue that is very much open to interpretation is whether corporate officers within a large corporation are considered “employers” under OSHA guidelines. It can be hard to argue that an officer in a boardroom should be reasonably aware of what is happening at a worksite or store location hundreds of miles away. In some instances, however, corporate officers can be held liable for OSHA violations as employers and face civil or criminal consequences for them. In New York and New Jersey, it is typically considered a question left to the jury in a legal case, based on evidence that either implicates or releases an officer from liability.
Employees can also potentially be held liable for OSHA violations, especially if their behavior is a direct cause of the violation. If an employer at a worksite has followed OSHA guidelines, provided proper documentation and training, and yet a violation still occurs, employees can be potentially held liable. OSHA guidelines typically indicate that a violation occurs if the employer should have reasonably been aware of rules not being followed or of unsafe conditions. When an employee creates an unsafe environment in a way that the employer could not reasonably be aware of, however, then the employee can be liable for the results.
OSHA guidelines exist throughout the country, and in states like New York, to protect workers from unsafe conditions. Liability can be difficult to determine and often involves a great deal of research, paperwork, and legal precedent. If you or a loved one has been injured or lost work due to a New York OSHA violation, contact Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP immediately at (212) 986-7353 to get the protection you deserve.