The OSHA/Hyatt Hotels saga continued with a recent exchange of letters between OSHA and the hotel chain’s attorney. In April, OSHA issued a “5(a)(1) letter” to the CEO of Hyatt Hotels, indicating that OSHA believed there were ergonomic risks associated with the daily work activities of the company’s housekeeping staff. The letter put the hotel chain “on notice” that while OSHA did not believe that a “recognized hazard” existed at the time of the inspection, such that a General Duty Clause citation should issue, if the same hazard was later identified in a subsequent inspection, OSHA would assert that this letter made the hazard a recognized one, for purposes of enforcement. Therefore, if the hotel chain does not follow OSHA’s recommendations, subsequent inspections would likely result in a citation. As well publicized as this battle has been, OSHA would likely take the same position with other hotel operators. In other words, the entire industry may now be “on notice.”
The OSHA letter culminated what was nearly a year-long OSHA investigation of Hyatt hotels across the country. The inspection activity was prompted in 2010 by multiple employee complaints filed in concert by housekeepers (through their Union, Unite HERE) across the country complaining of ergonomic injuries related to bending, stooping, twisting, and lifting while cleaning and making beds.
Hyatt responded to the OSHA letter through counsel and pointed out that despite the numerous employee complaints, OSHA did not have the evidence to issue one citation to the hotel chain. In its response letter, Hyatt also reiterated its serious concern that the housekeepers' union was using the Agency to drive its organizing efforts in the hospitality industry.
Hotel employers should be on alert for OSHA inspections at their properties. As OSHA inspections involve interaction with local management, training at the property level is key to successfully managing an OSHA inspection. Hotel operators with more than one location should also be aware of OSHA’s efforts to amplify the impacts of a single enforcement action throughout an entire corporate enterprise and to pursue follow-up inspections at related facilities in search of high dollar Repeat violations. Accordingly, OSHA activity at one of your facilities should be clearly communicated to other similarly-situated facilities, and any of OSHA’s findings should be corrected throughout the enterprise.