OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.
September 12, 2008
Mr. Robert Van Laanen
2015 Bottoms Court
Cumming, GA 30040-3792
Dear Mr. Van Laanen:
Thank you for your letter of August 22, 2006, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding an incident that occurred during a professional baseball game you watched on television, when a wooden bat shattered and resulted in an injury. For clarification, your specific question is paraphrased below, followed by OSHA's response. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any scenario not delineated within your original correspondence.
Background/scenario: Recently, you have observed modifications in the shape of some wooden bats used by professional baseball players. The new, modified bats appear to have smaller handles and/or long, narrow throats that taper to the barrel. You question whether bat manufacturers conducted sufficient testing on the new-style bats before they were introduced, because you have noted a marked increase in baseball bats shattering during games over the last year or two. Your concern is that these bats appear to be breaking more frequently, sending shattered pieces flying about the field and into the crowd. You believe this creates an increased hazard to players and spectators in the stands.
You have sent an e-mail to the major league baseball players' organization raising these concerns regarding the new wooden bats and you believe these increased instances of shattered bats should be sufficient grounds for OSHA to initiate a safety investigation.
Questions: First, does OSHA have jurisdiction to regulate the safety of professional baseball players as well as spectators at major league games?
Second, if OSHA has jurisdiction, in light of a recent surge in shattering bats that send wood fragments out in an explosive manner, can the Agency press professional baseball to change back to sturdier wooden bats or to metal bats?
Answer: The answer to the first question, whether OSHA has authority to protect baseball players, umpires and others at work at their place of employment depends on whether these individuals meet the definition of "employee" under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). OSHA has no specific [applicable] standards that address protection for professional athletes playing in games. More direct to your concerns, OSHA has no standards for protecting professional baseball players at bat or for protecting other employees in proximity to batters at major league games.
A question related to your concern and OSHA involvement is whether professional baseball players are considered independent contractors or employees. That question is important for the Agency because OSHA's jurisdiction is dependent on an employer-employee relationship. Without that relationship, our standards are not applicable. For your information, we note that in an interpretation letter to Dave Chamberlain, dated June 23, 2003, OSHA addressed a question regarding whether professional athletes were contractors or employees. In that letter, we stated that "(t)his determination must be made on a case-by-case basis after considering all of the circumstances affecting the relationship between the teams and their players and applying the common law factors." In most cases, however, OSHA does not take enforcement action with regard to professional athletes.
In addition, regarding the safety of spectators at professional sports events, as we explained above, OSHA's standards apply only to the employer-employee relationship, and not to employer activities that can affect the general public. Thus, the impact of this hazard for spectators does not fall under the Agency's jurisdiction and, as such, does not provide a rationale for Agency action.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of General Industry Enforcement at (202) 693-1850.
Richard E. Fairfax, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs