The United States Congress in 1970 enacted the OSHA, because “personal injuries and illnesses arising out of work situations impose a substantial burden upon, and are a hindrance to, interstate commerce in terms of lost production, wage loss, medical expenses, and disability compensation payments.” The legislation was signed into law by Richard Nixon, the Ghost of Presidents Past.
But what if such laws had been enacted in 1843 in London? Would Bob Cratchit have been brave enough to file an OSHA complaint? Or perhaps Scrooge’s nephew looking out for Cratchit’s health? What would such a complaint have looked like?
29 USC 654 requires an employer “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
Bob Cratchit’s chief OSHA complaint would be the excessively cold temperature in the office creating an unsafe work environment that risked Cratchit’s health. Moreover, it is a safe bet that Scrooge did not have a portable fire extinguisher, which is required by 29 CRF 1910.157(a) and just a good idea after the Great Fire of London in 1666.
There has been litigation where it was “too cold” for employees to work, thus creating unsafe work conditions. See, NLRB v. Washington Aluminum Co., 370 U.S. 9, 10-11 (U.S. 1962) and Stephenson v. Larry’s French Mkt., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43096 (E.D. Tex. May 22, 2006).
Case law holds that an employee injured by exposure to cold temperatures in a refrigerated room could recover damages. Southern Express v. Green, 26 Va. App. 439, 445-446 (Va. Ct. App. 1998). However, the evidence should be supported by expert testimony to show injuries were caused by the cold temperature (such as a doctor explaining frost bite). The employee saying, “it was cold” is not enough in a lawsuit. F. W. Woolworth Co. v. Volking, 135 Miss. 410 (Miss. 1924).
Bob Cratchit would cause an OSHA inspector to haunt Scrooge in such a way that the Ghost of Christmas Future would look like the Ghost of Christmas Present. A civil suit would require expert testimony to explain his injuries, but Scrooge would likely be cooked like the biggest goose in all of London.