Acosta v. Hensel Phelps Construction Co., No. 17-60543 (5th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Hensel, the general contractor building a new Austin public library, maintained control over the worksite through on-site management personnel, Hensel's subcontractor, HEW, worked on the project’s East Screen Wall. HEW's sub-subcontractor, CVI, was to complete demolition and excavation for the Wall. A nearly vertical 12-foot wall of “Type C” soil developed. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations mandate systems to protect employees from cave-ins. No protective systems were in place. On a rainy morning in 2015, CVI was to reinstall rebar at the base of this wall of soil, preliminary to pouring concrete footings. Concerned about the weather and the instability of the wall, CVI owner Daniels sent his employees to work on another area. Hensel's superintendent instructed Daniels to return his employees to the excavation. Daniels sent an email to HEW’s senior project manager, who gave only a cursory reply. Daniels sent his employees back to the excavation. That day, an OSHA compliance officer discovered CVI employees working at the unprotected wall. The city inspector, Hensel’s superintendent, and HEW’s superintendent were present. OSHA cited CVI and Hensel for violating 29 C.F.R. 1926.652(a)(1), pursuant to its multi-employer citation policy. OSHA considered Hensel a “controlling employer” An ALJ agreed but found that Fifth Circuit precedent that “OSHA regulations protect only an employer’s own employees,” foreclosed the citation. The Fifth Circuit reversed, deferring to OSHA’s construction of 29 U.S.C. 651, as granting authority to issue citations to controlling employers.