Cal/OSHA’S NUCLEAR OPTION: THE OPU

When Cal/OSHA inspectors come across a hazard which they believe is an “imminent” risk for death or serious physical harm to employees, they have the power to issue an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU). The effect on the employer can be devastating.

The original intent of the Legislature in giving Cal/OSHA the power to issue an OPU was that it would be applied to machinery, such as an unguarded power press, or a specific location, such as an unshored trench. In the last decade, though, the scope of an OPU has expanded to include entire worksites and companies. For instance, OPUs have been used to shut down farm labor contractors who fail to have adequate heat illness programs.

A particularly silly example of overreach (pun intended) was the OPU issued for a flying trapeze school for failing to have guard rails around the performance platform. The employer was forced to put their employees in fall protection harnesses more suitable for construction workers than acrobats.

Should Cal/OSHA take this nuclear option – placing a yellow diamond-shaped OPU placard on a machine, a device or an entire worksite – the machine cannot be touched or the location entered by the employer, even for the purpose of eliminating the hazard.

You must take these limitations seriously. Removing or going around an OPU is a criminal offense which Cal/OSHA can be expected to enforce. Only a Cal/OSHA representative can remove an OPU.

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