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Would OSHA “Punt” on Inspecting an NFL Team?

(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt of a piece written by Travis W. Vance, of Fisher & Phillips LLP, from the November issue of Concussion Litigation Reporter)

The tragedy this August that claimed the life of one worker and injured another during construction of the new $1.1B Minnesota Vikings football stadium reminded us that serious accidents can happen at any site no matter the size or cost. As an avid football fan and OSHA lawyer, and with football season just getting started, it also got me thinking about workplace safety issues occurring at professional football stadiums on Sunday afternoons.

Could (and would) OSHA actually inspect the “workplace” of a professional football team? 1

This question is intriguing for a variety of reasons. It involves sports, which is always fun. And it addresses safety, which is important. The answer is more complicated than you might imagine.

Obviously, there are no OSHA regulations specifically addressing the on-field hazards of professional football. Believe it or not, the OSH Act does not include a subpart entitled “professional sports.”

If OSHA cited an NFL team for on-field safety hazards taking place during a game, it would have to resort to the general duty clause, which mandates generically that employers provide a workplace free of recognized hazards. Because there is no standard on point, OSHA has a heightened burden of proof. In addition to identifying a hazard, it must also provide a feasible abatement when citing under this clause.

A general duty clause citation issued to an NFL team for an on-field safety hazard would read something like this:

Section 5(a)(1). General Duty Clause.

The Atlanta Falcons football team failed to provide its employees a workplace free from recognized hazards. On or about October 4, 2015, its quarterback suffered a concussion after being tackled during a game against the Carolina Panthers. This hazard could have been prevented by the following feasible abatements:

  1. Replace the current helmets worn by its players with those that include additional padding or other protective measures; or
  2. Institute new blocking systems to train its offensive linemen to better protect the quarterback.

Proposed Penalty: $7,000

Abatement Date: October 31, 2015

Sure, this is how OSHA “could” cite a pro sports team. But would an OSHA inspector actually visit mini-camp?

Probably not. OSHA’s September 12, 2008 standard interpretation letter strongly suggests that OSHA would punt on the issue. Pun intended.

In its 2008 interpretation, OSHA claimed (to read the rest of the article, subscribe to the reporter here: https://concussionpolicyandthelaw.com/subscribe/)

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