Supreme Court Rejects OSHA Challenge

By Alana Smart / July 10, 2024 / Blog ,

Supreme Court Rejects OSHA Challenge

In a significant development for employers focused on occupational health and safety, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) authority to establish workplace safety standards. This decision reaffirms OSHA’s crucial role in maintaining safe working conditions nationwide.

The Case Against OSHA

Allstates Refractory Contractors, an Ohio industrial furnace servicing company, challenged OSHA’s power. They claimed that Congress improperly gave the agency its legislative authority. Supported by business and conservative groups and Republican attorneys general, Allstates argued that the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) violated the Constitution’s separation of powers.

The case drew attention because of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, which has been critical of regulatory overreach. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent, argued that OSHA’s authority was too broad and amounted to an improper delegation of legislative power. Justice Neil Gorsuch also supported reviewing the case. However, only two votes were cast, falling short of the four needed for an appeal.

OSHA has faced challenges to its rulemaking authority before, notably in 1978 and 2011, but has always prevailed. The recent challenge aimed to take advantage of the court’s conservative stance. The OSH Act, signed by President Richard Nixon, allows the Department of Labor to set safety standards to protect workers from various hazards, significantly reducing workplace injuries and deaths over the past fifty years.

The Case of Allstates Refractory Contractors

In 2019, OSHA fined Allstates $5,967 after a catwalk brace fell and injured a construction worker. Allstates contested the penalty, arguing that the OSH Act granted the agency excessive regulatory power. Despite its “outstanding track record of workplace safety,” Allstates claimed that complying with OSHA’s standards forced it to spend more money than necessary, preventing it from choosing “how best to keep its employees safe.”

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld OSHA’s authority, stating that the law provided sufficient direction and limitations on the agency’s power. The court concluded that the “reasonably necessary or appropriate” standard set by the OSH Act met the Supreme Court’s requirement of an “intelligible principle” to guide and limit an agency’s delegated authority.

Future Considerations

The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirms the stability and predictability of OSHA’s regulatory framework. While the debate over the extent of agency authority continues, the current legal landscape supports a robust federal role in ensuring safe working conditions. Employers should remain informed about OSHA regulations and prioritize compliance to protect their workforce and avoid penalties. This decision underscores the importance of adhering to established safety standards, which have proven effective in significantly reducing workplace injuries and fatalities over the past five decades.

While this decision to reject the OSHA challenge maintains the status quo, it leaves the door open for future challenges to delegating legislative powers to federal agencies. Such challenges could significantly impact the stability of current workplace safety regulations. Employers must stay vigilant and prepared for potential changes in the regulatory landscape.




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