Employer Liable Under OSHA for Constructive Knowledge of Safety Hazard


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that an employer had constructive knowledge of dangerous conditions in the workplace and therefore affirmed a fine imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for violations of workplace safety standards.

Under the OSH Act, employers must meet health and safety standards, and may be fined by OSHA if they violate such standards. The violations range from “de minimus,” to “not serious,” to “serious.” In Thomas G. Gallagher, Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, OSHA issued two serious workplace safety violations following an injury to an employee resulting from improper rigging of a pipe assembly. The employer contested the violations, arguing that it did not have knowledge of them, which is required for a finding of a “serious” violation.

As the First Circuit noted, an employer need not have actual knowledge of the violation in order for it to be “serious.” Under OSHA, the employer will be liable if it had constructive knowledge of the condition – in other words, it could have known of the condition with the exercise of reasonable diligence. Moreover, for these purposes, the knowledge of a supervisor is deemed the knowledge of the employer. Thus, in the present case, the First Circuit affirmed the determination that the foreman “certainly anticipated the hazard” but “failed in his supervision” and direction of the employees responsible for the rigging. This case emphasizes the wide scope of knowledge that will be imputed to employers for purposes of OSHA liability.