Organizations that lack enhanced 911 systems for emergency communications run the risk of exposing themselves to serious fines and law suits, even in states that have not yet adopted E911 laws, an expert on occupational safety and health said during a recent Webinar
According to Mark Lies, a partner at Chicago law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP who is an expert in Occupational Safety and Health Administration law, OSHA could leverage a general regulation to cite employers and issue penalties that range from $7,000 to $70,000 per day for organizations that fail to have employee protections such as those provided by E911. E911 uses location-based technology to determine the whereabouts of distressed callers, helping emergency responders locate them and potentially saving lives and property.
“There have not been specific citations yet under the General Duty Clause, but this is a very dynamic area,” Lies said. “You are probably aware that there have been many pronouncements under federal OSHA that they’re going to become much more aggressive. The Democratic administration does not believe that under the last eight years of the Bush administration, that there has been aggressive enforcement of the OSHA laws, and in fact there are proposals under OSHA law to include criminal liability as well as civil.”
Fifteen U.S. states already have E911 laws on their books. Lies encouraged employers to look at the statutes that apply to their states and what kinds of fines or penalties may be assessed against organizations that are out of compliance.
Yet even in the “other” 35 states that have no E911 law, OSHA requires a written “Emergency Action Plan” that includes, among other things, a plan for evacuation in case of an emergency.
“It is entirely conceivable that using existing regulations, OSHA could issue citations,” Lies said. “The General Duty Clause is a much more real potential liability area. If OSHA does not have a specific regulation that’s been promulgated and issued, but there is a recognized hazard to safety or health that’s likely to cause serious injury or death to an employee, they can issue citations to employers for failure to have a protective device or procedure in effect.”
Experts long have warned that it’s not only states with legislation that decision-makers need to be concerned about. Take, for example, the case of an enterprise whose offices are spread out into different areas. If there’s an accident in another state and the organization didn’t provide E911 equally across all locations, that raises serious liability issues.
Lies also discussed the possibility that what’s known as “common law liability” could be used in a case where an organization has no E911 system. Generally speaking, common law liability means there’s a legal duty on the part of an employer to do something, and an employee is injured as a result of a breach of that duty.
“I will tell you, as you might expect, that common law in this country is very dynamic and it changes with technology,” Lies said. “So as new devices come onto the marketplace, there are new issues regarding liability.”
That’s a point that Bob Kimble, director of business development in strategic channels at RedSky (News
), also made during the free Webinar.
“As technology explodes, and gives us increased opportunities to use phones anywhere in the world, there is also more strain on the ability of organizations to know where those phones are located and that the 911 call is taking place is getting to the proper PSAP (public safety answering point),” Kimble said.
The largest single driver of E911 adoption in the United States is legislation, Kimble said, but the varying complexity of those laws from state to state – and a lack of a national standard – makes it difficult for organizations to know how to best handle E911.
“Even if you’re not in a regulated state, liability plays a very big role in why you should probably take a look at E911,” Kimble said.
It’s also a matter of staying ahead of the curve. Experts predict that more and more states will adopt E911 regulations.
“There is going to be more legislation coming,” Lies said. “More states will come on board with this. It’s just a matter of time. The technology is clearly available, and there is no doubt that non-compliance with statutory requirements or ignoring a known hazard could lead to common-law liability.”
Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan