Enforcement and Inspection

OSHA Citations for Falsifying Abatement Claims Upheld By ALJ

An Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) administrative law judge (ALJ) upheld citations of a hardwood-flooring manufacturer for falsely claiming to have corrected previously cited workplace safety and health hazards. In July 2018, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Timberline Hardwood Floors LLC with willful violations for uncorrected hazards.

OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration

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The judge’s decision orders the company to pay $166,265 in penalties for all violations.

OSHA cited Timberline’s predecessor entity, Timberline Hardwood Dimensions Inc. (THD), in 2012 for failing to train forklift operators adequately and develop and implement lockout/tagout, hearing conservation, and hazard communication programs at the Fulton, New York, plant. Thomas Vavra, a co-owner of both Timberline Hardwood Floors and THD, signed abatement certifications declaring the company had corrected the violations as part of an August 2012 settlement agreement with the agency.

“Employers have a duty to take effective actions to correct hazards and prevent their recurrence, and provide truthful information as to hazard abatement,” OSHA’s New York Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson said in an agency statement.

Timberline Hardwood Floors is located in the same facility as THD; the company employs many of the same workers as THD and uses the same equipment and machinery. Assets of THD were transferred to Timberline Hardwood Floors at no cost. OSHA found that THD and Vavra had not taken any action since the 2012 settlement to establish a hearing conservation program, train employees on noise, require employees to have hearing tests/audiograms, or ensure that employees always wore hearing protection.

OSHA also found that Vavra misrepresented that he had developed and implemented an energy control (lockout/tagout) program and procedures for servicing and maintaining machines. The employer also had not abated the forklift and hazard communication violations.

OSHA’s Syracuse area office began a programmed inspection of Timberline on January 9, 2018. The establishment was randomly selected as part of an emphasis program on amputations.

The OSHA compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) observed that it was very loud in the workplace and requested a health inspection. The CSHO returned on January 11 to resume the safety inspection, and an OSHA senior industrial hygienist initiated a health inspection that included noise sampling.

The industrial hygienist found that 6 employees working in the mill area were exposed to continuous noise above the 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) sound level of 85 dBA. The employer had failed to establish and implement a hearing conservation program.

The CSHO reported finding that the employer did not have safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals in the workplace or provide information or training required under the hazard communication standard. The inspector reported finding the emergency exit lacked an illuminated exit sign and was locked by a deadbolt.

The ALJ upheld the willful violations, ruling that the employer knew the occupational safety and health standards and disregarded them. The ALJ also concluded the employer demonstrated plain indifference for worker safety and health.

“The U.S. Department of Labor pursues appropriate legal actions to ensure that employers comply with the law, including when they refuse to correct workplace hazards that expose their employees to potentially fatal or disabling injuries,” New York Regional Solicitor of Labor Jeffrey S. Rogoff said in a statement.