Most state workers’ compensation regulations provide an intentional tort exception for employers' workers’ compensation immunity. A Louisiana district court recently rejected a plaintiffs’ effort to trigger this intentional tort exception to workers’ compensation immunity by citing an OSHA “willful” violation as proof that their employer consciously desired that plaintiffs’ suffer their alleged injuries. In the case at issue, plaintiffs were overcome by fumes when they were ordered to clean a tank rail car that contained hazardous chemicals. Their employer was cited for OSHA violations and several of those violations fell into the “willful” category. The court found that these allegations insufficient to meet Louisiana’s “extremely high” standard necessary to avoid the workers’ compensation bar. Hernandez v. Dedicated TCS, LLC (E.D. La. 3/3/17).
Last year, several courts in Washington and Kentucky had similarly ruled that state workers’ compensation laws provided the exclusive remedy for employees injured in the course of their employment notwithstanding OSHA willful violations. But a U.S. District Court in Idaho recently ruled that employees could pursue tort claims after they were ordered to retrieve radioactive plates without proper protection gear in violation of applicable OSHA regulations.
This week I published an article in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Trump election puts environment into less than green state. In this article, I discuss my thoughts on environmental issues during the transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. I specifically address: 1) what authority President Trump has to implement environmental changes; 2) what environmental actions have been taken to date; 3) insights into future environmental changes we are likely to see; and 4) reaction from the environmental community.
If you would like to hear more about what’s happening on the environmental front in the Trump administration, please join us next Tuesday, March 7 at Noon for a program titled Environmental, Health & Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration. My partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence will be providing the latest updates on what we know and what we can anticipate from the Trump administration in connection with environmental, health, and safety considerations.
If you would like to join us for this program or participate via webinar, please RSVP here.
Jenner & Block Partners Gay Sigel, Steve Siros, and Allison Torrence will speak at the upcoming program Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues in 2017: What to Expect From the Trump Administration, hosted by Jenner & Block’s Environmental, Workplace Health & Safety Practice Group on Tuesday, March 7 from 12:00 pm to 1:00 p.m. With the Trump Administration beginning to take shape, federal environmental, health, and safety (EHS) policy is certain to shift to the right. This CLE program will provide an overview of the Trump Administration’s actions impacting EHS matters to date and prognosticate on changes that may be forthcoming. You are invited to join us for this special program in person or via webinar. If you plan to participate, please RSVP as indicated below.
When: Tuesday, March 7, 12:00—1:00 p.m. with lunch starting at 11:45 a.m.
Where: Jenner & Block, 353 North Clark, Chicago, IL—45th Floor Conference Center
For more information about the program and to RSVP, please connect here.
As we begin the New Year, we wanted to take a moment to look back at some of the major EHS developments in 2016 and think about what we can expect in 2017.
2016 was a busy year for the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog, which is now in its sixth year with over 760 posts. In 2016, we had nearly 100 blog posts from 10 different authors and over 6,700 visits to the site.
Our five most popular blogs from 2016 were:
Navigating Hawkes, the Newest Wetlands Ruling from the Supreme Court, by Matt Ampleman
As always, we are monitoring a variety of issues that are important to you and your business, including, for example, RCRA regulatory changes, the future of climate change regulation, implementation of the TSCA Reform Act, and new developments in environmental litigation. You can find current information about these developments and more on the Corporate Environmental Lawyer blog. If you don’t find what you are looking for on our blog, we welcome your suggestions on topics that we should be covering. In addition, keep abreast of new developments in the EHS area through our Twitter @JennerBlockEHS.
We also look forward to the opportunity to share our thoughts and insights with respect to current EHS issues with you at an upcoming program:
- March 7, 2017, 12:00 pm CT: Environmental, Health, and Safety Issues in 2017—What to Expect From the Trump Administration, by Gabrielle Sigel, Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence
The program will take place at Jenner & Block’s Chicago office and also will be available as a webinar. We will post a formal invitation to the program in a few weeks.
We also invite you to visit our newly redesigned Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety Law Practice website for more information about our practice. We look forward to another exciting year and to connecting with you soon.
On January 18, 2017, the Department of Labor published a final rule adjusting civil penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act for inflation as required by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015. As required by the Act, the adjustment is based on changes to the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers. Unlike last year’s catch-up adjustment, which increased penalties by 78%, this year’s inflation adjustment is a little over 1%. The new penalties compared to the pre-August 2016 penalties can be found here.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule on Occupational Exposure to Beryllium in the Federal Register on January 9, 2017. The final rule reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium to 0.2 μg/m3, averaged over 8-hours. The previous PEL for beryllium, established more than 40 years ago, was 2.0 μg/m3. The rule also establishes a new short term exposure limit for beryllium of 2.0 μg/m3, over a 15-minute sampling period.
As we discussed previously on this blog, OSHA proposed this rule on August 7, 2015 and took extensive public comment before issuing this final version. OSHA estimates that approximately 62,000 workers are exposed to beryllium in their workplaces and that the rule will save almost 100 lives from beryllium-related diseases and prevent 46 new cases of chronic beryllium disease each year, once the effects of the rule are fully realized.
On May 12, 2016, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") issued a final rule addressing employers' workplace injury and illness reporting and recording obligations. 81 Fed. Reg. 29624-94. One portion of the new rule addresses retaliation against employees who report a work-related injury or illness (collectively, "injury") to an employer. Specifically, new § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) provides: "You must not discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness." 29 CFR § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv). OSHA also added another new rule: An employer “must establish a reasonable procedure for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses promptly and accurately. A procedure is not reasonable if it would deter or discourage a reasonable employee from accurately reporting a workplace injury or illness.” 29 CFR § 1904.35(b)(1)(i).
The new rule, particularly § (b)(1)(iv), was challenged in federal court, with plaintiffs seeking a nationwide preliminary injunction prohibiting the rule's enforcement. TEXO ABC/AGC, Inc. v. Perez, No. 3:16-CV-1998 (N.D. Tex. July 8, 2016). On November 28, 2016, the court denied plaintiffs' request for an immediate injunction, but said that its decision on the preliminary injunction does not reflect its decision on the merits of plaintiffs' legal challenges to the rule. Without the preliminary injunction, OSHA may begin enforcing the new rule as of December 1, 2016.
By Andi Kenney
On November 18, 2016, OSHA finally published a final rule updating the walking-working surfaces and fall protection standards for general industry. Percolating since 1990 (55 FR 13360), reopened in 2003 (68 FR 23528) and again in 2010 (75 FR 28862), revisions to the walking-working surfaces and fall protection standards were long overdue. OSHA’s 500+ final rule gives employers new options to combat slip, trip and fall hazards (Subpart D) while adding employer requirements to ensure those new options provide for enhanced safety. It adds a new section under the general industry Personal Protective Equipment standard (Subpart I) that specifies employer requirements for using personal fall protection systems and clarifies obligations for several specific industries, including telecommunications, pulp, paper and paperboard mills, electrical power generation, transmission and distribution, textiles and sawmills.
The final rule addresses fall protection options (including personal fall protection systems), codifies guidance on rope descent systems, revises requirements for fixed and portable ladders, prohibits the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system, and establishes training requirements on fall hazards and fall protection equipment. OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels stated, "The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries." OSHA notes the final rule also increases consistency between general and construction industries, which it believes will help employers and workers that work in both industries.
Trade Associations Obtain Nationwide Injunction Against Portions of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Regulatory Scheme, and Agencies Stand Down (For Now)
Portions of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces regulations, specifically those related to reporting violations of labor laws and restricting mandatory arbitration, have been enjoined on a nationwide basis by the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (“District Court”). The paycheck transparency provisions were upheld by the District Court and remain enforceable. Following the District Court’s Order, on October 25, 2016, federal executive agencies issued guidance to their senior procurement officials to halt implementation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces regulations enjoined by the Court, and confirmed that the paycheck transparency provisions (FAR 52.2005, 22.2007(d) and clause 52.222-60) remain in effect.
As reported, the government is still weighing whether to appeal the injunction. Although it seems likely that the government will appeal the District Court’s order and argue that the District Court does not have the authority to issue the injunction on a nationwide basis, it remains uncertain whether the government could actually obtain this relief. When faced with a similar TX federal district court nationwide injunction of executive action and regulation in the context of immigration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the district court’s authority to issue that nationwide injunction. On review, the Supreme Court split 4-4, leaving the Fifth Circuit’s decision in place. Effectively, this means that TX federal district courts and the Fifth Circuit can stall the administration’s desired policies on a nationwide basis until the Supreme Court acquires another Justice. Because we are in an election year and do not know the identity of the next Supreme Court Justice or when that Justice would be confirmed, the ultimate outcome of this injunction remains elusive at this time. However, even with some legal uncertainty, we anticipate that most government contractors would prefer to forego all but the paycheck transparency requirements until there is a greater likelihood that the enjoined regulations will be upheld than exist at this time. Indeed, even beyond the strength of the substantive arguments, the District Court briefing and oral argument made clear that had the regulations had gone into effect, the government was not yet ready to accept any reports of purported “violations” because the electronic portal to receive such data was not yet complete.
Trade Associations File Suit Challenging the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Regulatory Scheme as Unlawful and Unconstitutional
As we previously reported here, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FAR Council) issued the Final Rule and Final Guidance implementing President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order (E.O. 13673), signed on July 31, 2014. Despite strenuous objections, including from groups representing defense contractors, on August 25, 2016, DOL and FAR Council finalized the rules (the “Fair Pay Regulations”) by which those who seek to contract with the government (contracts over $500,000) must disclose alleged and final wage and labor law “violations,” including non-final agency allegations of labor law violations and determinations subject to appeal. Certain portions of the Fair Pay Regulations take effect as early as October 25, 2016.
In Associated Builders and Contractors of Southeast Texas v. Fed. Acquisition Regulatory Council, Case No. 1:16-cv-00425, E.D. Tex. (filed Oct. 7, 2016), Associated Builders and Contractors of Southeast Texas (“ABC-Texas”), Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (“ABC”), and the National Association of Security Companies (”NASCO”) filed suit in federal district court against members of the DOL and FAR Council challenging E.O. 13673 and the Fair Pay Regulations. ABC and ABC-Texas represent nearly 21,000 member construction contractors and related firms in Texas and throughout the country. NASCO represents companies that employ more than 400,000 trained security officers.
Jenner & Block Webinar: The Top Environmental, Health and Safety Issues for 2016 - What You Need to Know
On Tuesday, February 23rd, from 12:00– 1:15 pm CT, Jenner & Block Partners Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros will present a CLE webinar on The Top Environmental, Health and Safety Issues for 2016 - What You Need to Know. The webinar will provide an overview of key environmental, health and safety issues in 2016 including the following topics:
- Issues relating to the Corps’ jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act;
- Fallout under the Safe Drinking Water Act after Flint;
- U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan regulations, UNFCCC COP 21, and the potential regulation of aircraft GHG emissions;
- Status of TSCA reform efforts;
- Litigation relating to GMOs under FIFRA;
- RCRA waste regulation amendments;
- OSHA penalty updates;
- U.S. EPA challenges;
- Water scarcity and sustainability; and
- Technological innovation and its impact on environmental practitioners.
To register for this free Webinar click here.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency ("U.S. EPA") recently announced its 2015 enforcement statistics, noting that for fiscal year 2015, U.S. EPA initiated enforcement actions resulted in $404 million in penalties and fines. In addition, companies were required to invest more than $7 billion to control pollution and remediate contaminated sites; convictions for environmental crimes resulted in 129 years of combined incarceration for convicted defendants; and there was a total of $39 million committed to environmental mitigation projects that benefited communities throughout the United States.
The largest single penalty was the result of a Clean Air Act settlement with two automobile manufacturers that resulted in a $100 million penalty, forfeiture of emissions credits and more than $50 million being invested in pollution control and abatement measures. U.S. EPA's 2015 enforcement numbers were up from 2014 ($100 million in fines and penalties collected in 2014).
Please click here to go to U.S. EPA's 2015 enforcement statistics website.
Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros Publish Article on U.S. Legal and Regulatory Developments in Nanotechnology
Lynn Grayson and Steven Siros have published an article in the most recent issue of DRI’s Toxic Tort and Environmental Law Newsletter titled Nanotechnology: U.S. Legal and Regulatory Developments. In the article, Ms. Grayson and Mr. Siros discuss how nanotechnology affects every sector of the U.S. economy and impacts our lives in a myriad of ways through the 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer goods and products we use on a daily basis. The article provides an overview of how nanotechnology is defined, insights on the regulatory framework and recent developments, possible concerns about nanomaterial use, and risk management considerations for U.S. businesses utilizing nanotechnology.
The full article is available here.
OSHA Penalty Limits to Increase Almost 80% in the Next Year, With Annual Inflation Adjustments Authorized Thereafter
Buried in the landmark Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (H.R. 1314) (“2015 Budget Act”) signed by the President on Monday, November 2, 2015, Section 701 requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to begin indexing its penalty limits to inflation, much like the US EPA and other federal agencies do now. This section, called the “Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015” (“2015 Penalties Act”), also has “catch-up” provisions, which mean that the existing $7,000 penalty limit (for other-than-serious and serious violations under OSHA, originally set in 1990) can be increased to approximately $12,477 per violation, and the existing $70,000 penalty limit (for willful and repeat violations) can be increased to approximately $124,765 per violation. OSHA must adjust these penalties through an interim final rulemaking no later than August 1, 2016.
Workers Comp: Will the Opt-Out Initiative Alter the 100 Year Old Social Compact Between Employers and Employees for Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses?
Dissatisfaction with existing workers compensation programs seems to be the norm these days. Employers are fed up with the costs of the programs, the sense that they provide incentives for employees to make false claims or to exaggerate real claims, and the bureaucratic process for claims resolution, among other issues. Employees are frustrated by the process for pursuing claims and the compensation schedules. As a result, the majority of states are considering changes to their workers compensation programs.
On September 15, 2015, US EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance published a proposed list of national enforcement initiatives (NEIs) for fiscal years 2017–19. This latest NEI list includes NEIs from the last round (FY2014–16) as well as three new potential NEIs that US EPA is considering.
On August 7, 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a proposed rule in the federal register that would reduce exposure limits for occupational exposure to beryllium. Beryllium is a strong but lightweight metal (it is stronger than steel, but lighter than aluminum) used primarily in the aerospace and defense industries and is classified as a strategic and critical material by the U.S. Department of Defense. OSHA estimates that approximately 35,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 4,088 establishments in the United States.
In honor of the fifth anniversary of our entry into the blogosphere, we are excited to announce a major revamp of the Corporate Environmental Lawyer’s design. In addition to the blog’s sophisticated new look, our readers will enjoy:
- Mobile and tablet responsive technology
- A trending-categories cloud list
- Easy-to-use social sharing buttons
Streamlined navigation menus
- Access to all five years of posts
In the five years since our Environmental and Workplace Health & Safety (EHS) practice created the Corporate Environmental Lawyer, we have written more than 500 posts, provided critical updates and insights on issues across the EHS legal sectors, and been ranked among LexisNexis’s top 50 blogs. As we wish to continue to grow the blog and provide our readers with the information they want to know, Corporate Environmental Lawyer editors, Steven M. Siros and Genevieve J. Essig, encourage you to participate by suggesting new topics. We look forward to continuing to provide content covering the issues that are driving changes in environmental law.
On April 28, 2015, EPA announced the availability of a problem formulation and initial assessment document for the Work Plan Chemical 1,4-Dioxane and opened a 60-day public comment period until June 29. The notice also seeks input on EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics' (OPPT) initial concerns about the industrial solvent 1,4-Dioxane.
Following receipt of comments on the problem formulation and initial assessment document and consideration of any additional data or information received, EPA will initiate a risk assessment which is the process to estimate the nature and probability of adverse health and environmental effects in humans and ecological receptors from chemical contaminants that may be present in the environment.
1. Alphabetically, what are the second three states with OSHA-approved State Plans? Connecticut, Hawaii, and Illinois. See the full list here.
2. The following provision is known as what?
"Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."
The General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970).
Chemicals, natural and synthetic, are all around us. We can’t live life without them--and we wouldn’t want to. But some chemicals are toxic to humans and the flora and fauna with which we share the earth. Replacing toxic substances found in the workplace, distributed in commerce and contained in wastes with less harmful materials protects employees, consumers and the environment at the same time. Safe Chemical and Green Chemistry initiatives seek to do just that.
OSHA estimates that each year more than 190,000 employees become ill and 50,000 die as a result of chemical exposures. Environmental and health and safety regulations restrict only a small percentage of the chemicals in use. Active chemical management systems designed to minimize or eliminate chemical hazards by finding safer alternatives can have a significant impact on employee health. Employers have often found that switching to safer chemicals reduces costs by reducing employee absences, medical expenses, disposal costs, and sometimes material costs. Additional benefits often include greater efficiencies and/or performance, improved employee morale and the benefits associated with being an industry leader and socially responsible employer.
OSHA has developed a tool kit to help employers interested in transitioning to safer chemicals. The tool kit outlines a seven step approach to understanding the chemicals being used in the workplace and finding and evaluating opportunities for improvements. It also includes a number of links to additional useful information. The tool kit can be found here.
Removing harmful chemicals from the workplace reduces the presence of harmful chemicals on our jobsite, on our roads, rails and waterways, in our products and ultimately in our landfills—a win for everyone and the environment.
1. Alphabetically, what are the second three states with OSHA-approved State Plans?
2. The following provision is known as what?
"Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."
Please submit your answer to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate whether you would mind us sharing your name in a later post, should you be the first correct responder.
In one of his last acts on the way out of office, Governor Quinn gave what some describe as a "big Christmas gift for the plaintiffs' bar" when he signed into law a bill that exempts construction-related asbestos personal injury claims from Illinois' ten-year statute of repose. SB 2221 was targeted at plaintiffs suffering from mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer with a long latency period. The bill will go into effect on June 1, 2015.
The bill was opposed by pro-business groups which argued that the bill only further reinforced Illinois' reputation for having an abusive legal climate. According to Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, Madison County, Illinois is home to a quarter of the nation's asbestos litigation and this bill will certainly enable additional asbestos litigation. On the other hand, the bill's sponsors contend that the bill levels the playing field for those suffering from mesothelioma, a disease for which the symptoms may not present themselves for more than 20 years after exposure. Please click here to see a copy of the bill that was signed into law by Governor Quinn.
On June 5, 2014, Governor Quinn signed a bill amending the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act and limiting protection for third party safety consultants from workers' suits. The Workers' Compensation Act prevents employees who sustain personal injuries or death in the line of duty from suing their employers for damages—establishing the workers' compensation program as the exclusive remedy. Prior to the Amendment, Section 5 of the Act explicitly stated that there is no common law or statutory right to recover damages from the employer, the employer's insurer, broker or "service organization retained y the employer, his insurer or his broker to provide safety service, advice or recommendations to the employer." The Amendment, which became PA 098-0633, limits the scope of protection from civil lawsuits to service organizations that are "wholly owned by the employer, his insurer or his broker and that provides safety service, advice or recommendations." The result is that independent, third-party safety consultants retained by employers in Illinois can no longer claim that they are covered by the workers' compensation exclusivity provision. Those safety consultants are now potentially subject to suit by injured employees who may claim their injuries are the result of the advice the consultants provided to their employers.
Illinois employers and their safety consultants may want to review should consider reviewing their consulting agreements to determine how the agreements address these potential risks, if at all. Likewise, safety consultants should review their insurance coverage to make sure it is adequate.
A copy of PA 098-0633, which amends the Worker Compensation Act and is effective immediately, can be found at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=098-0633&GA=98.
On May 14, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill directing the State Secretary of Labor to study and make recommendations by January 2015 regarding whether the State should assume responsibility for regulating workplace safety and health. The move is widely seen as the first step toward the State supplanting the authority of the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate occupational safety and health. Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 allows states and territories to develop and enforce safety and health standards provided the state program is at least as effective as the federal program. Currently 25 states and two territories operate state plans. OSHA is responsible for establishing and enforcing workplace safety and health standards in the remaining states and Washington, D.C.
The bill tasks the Secretary with identifying the agreements necessary to implement a state plan, reviewing methods to finance a state plan, determining what personnel and statutory and regulatory changes are necessary to implement a state plan, and identifying the interactions with the federal government necessary to transfer authority for regulation from the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to the State.
Proponents of state control point to opportunities for a more productive, cooperative relationship between business and a regulatory agency more in touch with local needs. Critics cite additional costs to the State and concerns about weaker enforcement. Whether Kansas ultimately moves forward with a state plan remains to be seen. If it chooses to do so, it will be the first state seeking initial approval of a full state plan in nearly 40 years . . . and the first in the 21st century.
The bill can be found here.