D.C. Circuit Rules Statute of Limitations is Six Months for OSHA Recordkeeping Violations

On April 6, 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a longstanding precedent regarding the statute of limitations for violating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recordkeeping requirements. In AKM LLC v. Secretary of Labor, 2012 WL 1142273 (D.C. Cir. Apr. 6, 2012), the court ruled that the statute of limitations for such violations is six months rather than five years.
OSHA requires employers to record information about employees’ work-related injuries in three ways. Employers must (1) prepare an incident report and a separate injury log within seven days of learning that an injury occurred; (2) prepare a year-end summary report, certified by a company executive, of all recordable injuries during the calendar year; and (3) save all of these documents for five years.
In AKM LLC v. Secretary of Labor, OSHA inspected the employer and discovered that it failed to diligently record work-related injuries between 2002 and early 2006. On November 8, 2006, OSHA cited the employer because its incident report forms were incomplete, injuries were not entered in the injury log and year-end reviews were not conducted. The improperly recorded injuries occurred between January 11, 2002 and April 22, 2006.
Because the statute of limitations for an OSHA citation is six months after the occurrence of a violation and the injuries giving rise to the recording failures took place more than six months before OSHA issued the citations, the employer moved to dismiss the citations as untimely. However, the Secretary of Labor argued that the violations were “continuing violations” that prevented the statute of limitations from expiring until the end of the five-year record retention period. All of the employer's recording violations, stretching back to 2002, were therefore still occurring when OSHA’s inspection began on May 10, 2006. The Secretary argued the citations were timely because OSHA issued them two days shy of six months after the inspection date.
The court sided with the employer. It held that the employer's failure to make and review records and the workplace injuries that gave rise to those unmet recording duties were “incidents” and “events” which “occurred.” The six-month statute of limitations for OSHA to cite the employer for not properly recording workplace injuries began to run at that time, not at the end of the five-year record retention period. Therefore, OSHA’s citations were untimely, and the court vacated them.
This decision is a rare piece of good news for the business community in a time where each passing week brings news of increased OSHA enforcement. The court’s decision reverses a longstanding OSHA precedent and is a significant victory for employers.


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