Speaking at the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission Annual Judicial Conference in Charleston, SC this past Tuesday, September 14, OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels explained the agency’s use of the General Duty Clause:

“To fill gaps in the protections afforded by standards, the agency uses the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act to cover workers exposed to known workplace hazards. The General Duty Clause serves an important purpose because it is impossible for OSHA to create a standard for every hazard -- as in cases of ergonomics, workplace violence, specific chemical or bacterial exposure, or structural strength.

“For example, OSHA settled a case last year with Cascades Boxboard Group for $191,000 after our inspection found 170 workers at a Connecticut plant in danger of being crushed to death. The building where they were working had such extensive rust and corrosion to its support structure that a portion of the roof had collapsed. We found extensive evidence of structurally unsound walls and supports, including dangerously sagging wooden beams. We brought action against the company under the General Duty Clause because the employer failed to furnish something as basic as a safe place of employment.”