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OSHA LACKS PROBABLE CAUSE TO CONDUCT BROAD SAFETY INSPECTIONS

In a October 9, 2018 decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a district court ruling has been affirmed quashing an inspection warrant that OSHA had sought to expand a limited incident inspection to a "wall-to-wall" inspection covering every facet of the employer's facility.  USA v. Mar-Jac Poultry, Inc.  This case was handled by the Wimberly & Lawson firm headquartered in Atlanta and sets important limitations on governmental rights to search an employer's premises. 

The situation arose when an employee at a Georgia poultry processing facility was injured while working on an electrical panel box using an uninsulated screwdriver.  The employer duly reported the incident to OSHA as required by law, and when OSHA inspectors arrived, they announced their intent to inspect the entire facility.  The employer through counsel contended that the inspection should be confined to the area where the accident occurred and denied that OSHA had sufficient probable cause to expand their inspection. 

OSHA obtained a warrant, but the firm was able to quash the warrant for a lack of probable cause.  A federal judge granted the motion, and on appeal OSHA abandoned one of its arguments, that the expanded inspection was justified because it was part of a special emphasis program for certain facilities.  Instead, OSHA's main argument was that the OSHA 300 logs, upon which covered employers are required to list serious work-related injuries and illnesses, satisfied its burden to show that it had probable cause to believe that OSHA standards were being violated.  The federal appeals court rejected OSHA's argument, finding that the OSHA 300 log was not a substitute for reasonable cause to believe a statute had been violated.

Thus, a Fourth Amendment provision that "no warrant shall issue but upon probable cause. . ." is an important protection, including a protection for employers against government over-reach.


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