A recent decision of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals helps to provide OSHA and OSHA-regulated businesses with some certainty as to when the courts should issue an administrative search warrant sought by OSHA.
The case, USA v. Mar-Jac Poultry, involved a large poultry processor that reported an industrial injury to OSHA, as required, then became the subject of what it contended was undue scrutiny. After OSHA succeeded in getting a warrant issued for, pretty much, a full search, Mar-Jac successful fought to quash the warrant. When the district court agreed, and essentially told OSHA to seek a more limited warrant, OSHA appealed.
After the initial injury report, Mar-Jac did allow OSHA to inspect the accident site and relevant-related tools involved, and it also allowed some log files to be reviewed as well.
Unfortunately for the company, the sparse log files piqued the interest of the OSHA investigator. But the court wasn't convinced that any of the data OSHA gleaned from the log files was at all meaningful.
Hazards Aren't Violations
The big takeaway, as the appellate court explained, while OSHA regs require employers maintain a hazard free workplace, just because something at a worksite is a hazard, that doesn't necessarily mean the hazard is a violation.
In seeking the warrant against Mar-Jac, OSHA had relied heavily upon characterizing hazards as violations, and the court explained that a reasonable suspicion of hazards does not equate to a reasonable suspicion of violations, and thus, is not sufficient justification for a warrant.