OSHA Has Regulatory Power Over Uninspected Vessels

Wednesday, January 16, 2002
Small marine firms, including tens of thousands of uninspected vessels, such as charterboats, marine assistance vessels, barges and towing firms are now subject to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) rules regarding workplace safety, according to an 8-0 decision in Supreme Court on January 9, 2002, which prompted an advocate for small marine businesses vow to fight the regulatory expansion in Congress.

“This legal ruling is major and unprecedented expansion of government regulation over small vessels, and will negatively impact thousands of unsuspecting small business,” said Jeffrey C. Smith, president of Washington Policy Associates, Inc., a government relations firm representing associations made up of thousands of charterboats, marine assistance companies and other vessels. The ruling does not apply to vessels inspected by the Coast Guard, such as passenger vessels certificated to carry more than six passengers but all uninspected vessels including those who carry fewer than six passengers, and all those who use an Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) license for their vessel must now comply with comprehensive safety and workplace oversight by OSHA.

“These small marine firms have no idea what is expected by OSHA inspectors, and OSHA in turn knows very little about how these firms operate, so this new federal agency oversight I guaranteed to be fraught with confusion and miscommunication,” Smith said. The decision arose out of a case in which an uninspected vessel operator challenged OSHA regulation, saying that only the Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the vessel. The Supreme Court ruled that since the uninspected vessel was not subject to any current Coast Guard rule on working conditions that it was subject to OSHA’s workplace rules. “There is no justification of this regulatory expansion, and we will take our case to the Legislative Branch. Clearly Congress did not intend that OSHA be involved in small vessel safety issues, that is the role of the Coast Guard,” Smith said.

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