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Anning-Johnson Co. v. United States Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and Peter J. Brennan

decided: May 27, 1975.


On Petition for Review of an Order of the United States Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Stevens, Sprecher and Tone, Circuit Judges. Tone, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Author: Sprecher

SPRECHER, Circuit Judge.

The single narrow issue in this appeal is whether subcontractors working at a multi-employer construction site can receive citations and be held liable for penalties under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C. § 651 et seq. [OSHA], for non-serious violations of standards promulgated by the Secretary of Labor to which their employees were exposed, but which the subcontractors neither created nor were responsible for pursuant to their contractual duties.


Wright Construction Company, Inc. was the general contractor for the construction of a five-story steel and concrete bank building at Elkhart, Indiana. Petitioner Anning-Johnson Company was a subcontractor on the project with responsibility for furnishing and installing fireproofing for the building. Petitioner Workinger Electric, Inc. was a subcontractor on the same construction site with responsibility for furnishing and installing electrical, plumbing and sheet metal work. Neither subcontractors' contract contained a description of their duties which included general construction or carpentry work.

On May 31, 1973, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliance officer inspected the construction site. At the time of the inspection Anning-Johnson employed four employees on the jobsite who were members of Plasters Local 46, Cement Masons Local 532 and Laborers Local 645. Workinger employed fifteen employees at the construction site who were members of Electrical Workers Local 153, Plumbers Local 278 and Sheet Metal Workers Local 164.

It was stipulated that at the time of the inspection that the five floors and the roof of the building were already in place. The walls of the building were not in place and each floor was open at the side and was more than six feet above the adjacent floor and ground level.

The inspector found that on each floor a single steel cable was strung tautly along the edges of the open-sided floor at a height of approximately 40 inches above the surface of the floor. The cable was affixed to vertical columns of the building which were along the edge of the floor, about 50 feet apart. Red ribbons were tied to the cable at various intervals. The cables were the only barrier along the edges of these open-sided floors. There were no intermediate rails in place. At the time of the inspection employees of both subcontractors worked near and at the edge of these open-sided floors.

Located in about the center of the interior of the building was a steel stairway running from the basement to the fifth floor. The stairway was approximately 42 inches wide and was open on both sides except for the presence on one side of the next higher flight of the stairway. Each flight of stairs had more than four risers. The stairway from the first to the fifth floor had a railing running along only one side in some areas and had no intermediate rails. Other areas had, on both open sides, a single railing without intermediate rails. The stairway was the only means of reaching the upper floors in the building and at the time of the inspection it was used by all employees to reach the various floors.

On each floor level there was a floor opening for an elevator shaft. The opening in the floor was a rectangle approximately 5 feet 11 1/2 inches by 16 feet 2 inches. On the fifth floor at the time of inspection the opening was guarded by a single wood rail running along the edges of the opening at a height of approximately 40 inches above the floor surface. There was no intermediate rail or toeboard along any of the four sides of the opening.*fn1 The opening on the third floor was covered by 4 foot by 8 foot plywood sheets which lay unsecured on top of 4 inch by 4 inch pieces of lumber running along the two sides of the opening. These plywood sheets were not installed so as to prevent accidental displacement.

Because of these conditions the OSHA inspector cited Wright*fn2 as well as both petitioners for non-serious violations of 29 C.F.R. §§ 1926.500(d)(1), 1926.500(b)(1) and 1926.500(e)(1).*fn3 A total fine of $150 against each subcontractor was assessed.*fn4

It was further stipulated by the parties that neither subcontractor installed the cable, erected any of the railings, or placed the plywood sheets over the floor openings, but that these were installed by employees of Wright or other subcontractors who were members of Carpenters' Local 565 and Laborers' Local 645. Petitioners were not, however, specifically prohibited by the general contractor or by their contract with the carpenters' union from abating the alleged violations. Foremen of both subcontractors were aware of the conditions and nonetheless allowed their men to remain on the job.

The case was presented before the Administrative Law Judge on a theory that the Secretary of Labor's enforcement policy of citing subcontractors for non-serious violations of OSHA standards created by employees of other employers and which could not be effectively abated by the cited subcontractors was not authorized by the Act. On February 11, 1974, the Administrative Law Judge denied petitioners' motion for summary judgment and affirmed the citations issued and the proposed penalties. It is that decision which petitioners seek to have reviewed. 29 U.S.C. § 660(a).*fn5


The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was enacted in order to reduce the substantial burdens placed on interstate commerce because of work-related personnel injuries and illnesses. 29 U.S.C. § 651. Pursuant to the Act, an employer's duty flows from two sources. First, the Act requires that employers "shall comply with . . . standards promulgated under this chapter." 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(2). Second, where no standards are applicable, Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., 4 OSAHRC 1020, 1043 (1973) (Review Commission), an employer is subject to a general duty to "furnish . . . his employees . . . a place of employment . . . free from recognized hazards . . . likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(1). This appeal does not deal with the application of the general duty clause.*fn6

Pursuant to the Act, the Secretary of Labor is given general authority to promulgate occupational safety and health standards. 29 U.S.C. § 655.*fn7 The Secretary is authorized to send his agents to a worksite to inspect the area and equipment. 29 U.S.C. § 657(a). If upon such investigation the Secretary or his representative believes that an employer has violated any standard he shall issue a citation setting forth the nature of the violation and a reasonable time for abatement. 29 U.S.C. § 658(a). Thereafter, the Secretary shall notify the employer of any proposed penalty.*fn8 The employer may contest the citation or the proposed penalty or both.*fn9

The Commission, through its decisions, has consistently taken the position that exposure to conditions that violate one of the construction standards constitutes a sufficient basis upon which the Secretary may issue a citation and assess a fine against a subcontractor pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §§ 654(a)(2), 666, notwithstanding the fact that the violation is non-serious and was not created by the cited subcontractor. ...

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