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Billboard company's penalties for fall protection lapse vacated

Posted On: Jun. 8, 2020 2:37 PM CST


A billboard company showed that it provided its workers with proper training and fall protection, an administrative law judge for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission held in a final decision released Friday. 

In Secretary of Labor v. Outfront Media Inc., the administrative law judge vacated the $12,675 in proposed penalties assessed to the company after finding the employees who were observed working on a billboard without fall protection had received training and attempted to cover up the fact that they violated company policy.

On Oct. 5, 2017, a U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance officer observed three of four workers maintaining a billboard in Waterbury, Connecticut, at heights of 12 to 15 feet with no fall protection. The workers present at the site had previously been disciplined for violating the company’s fall protection policy, and one of the employees tried to convince the inspector that he had not violated the standard for fear of being fired for committing a second policy violation, arguing first that the old billboard had a passive fall protection system and later that he was not trained on fall protection for that particular type of billboard.

The inspector issued three citations again Outfront above which owns and maintains thousands of billboards, including the billboard in question. The billboard company contested the citation and penalty, arguing that all of its employees who work on billboards are provided with fall protection training and equipment and sign documentation certifying their understanding of and promise to comply with the procedures. The company also maintains a policy that any worker who observes an unsafe condition is obligated to immediately report the condition, regularly conducts unannounced inspections of sites that have resulted in discipline of employees and has a 100% tie-off policy. Workers are not required to tie off, however, when all of the required work can be accomplished using the passive fall protection system.

The Secretary of Labor argued that Outfront failed to train and ensure its workers had fall protection and failed to conduct a workplace hazard assessment to determine the necessary types of personal protective equipment for the workers who would be repairing the billboard.

An administrative law judge for the OSHRC vacated the citations, holding that there was insufficient evidence to show that a reasonably prudent employer would have provided different training or that Outfront failed to conduct a hazard assessment.

The commission judge found that the arguments made by the employee caught by the inspector working on the billboard without fall protection to be “unconvincing” and that given the man’s 10 years of experience working on billboards, his argument that the billboard had a passive protection system and that he was not trained on fall protection for that particular billboard “strains credulity.”

The commission also found significant evidence that Outfront conducted a site-specific hazard assessment of the billboard in question before the employees began work on it and directed the employees about what safety equipment was needed to complete the task.