Does OSHA's Jurisdiction Extend to the Baseball Diamond?

In a Sept. 12, 2008, Letter of Interpretation posted to OSHA's Web site Dec. 4, the agency addressed the increased prevalence of baseball bats breaking during professional games, sending shattered pieces flying about the field and into the stands, creating a hazard to players and spectators. Richard E. Fairfax, director of OSHA's Enforcement Programs Directorate, responded to the following two paraphrased questions:

  • Does OSHA have jurisdiction to regulate the safety of professional baseball players as well as spectators at major league games?
  • 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?

Fairfax said OSHA's authority to protect players, umpires, and others at work on the diamond depends on whether the individuals meet the definition of "employees" or "independent contractors" under the OSH Act. "OSHA has no specific [applicable] standards that address protection for professional athletes playing in games . . . [nor] standards for protecting professional baseball players at bat or for protecting other employees in proximity to batters at major league games," he wrote, noting that the agency's jurisdiction is dependent on an employer-employee relationship. "Without that relationship, our standards are not applicable."

Fairfax pointed to a June 23, 2003, LOI that addressed 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."

As for the safety of spectators at professional sports events, Fairfax noted that the agency's standards apply only to the employer-employee relationship and not to employer activities that can affect the general public. Thus, the hazard of shattered bat shards striking spectators "does not fall under the Agency's jurisdiction and, as such, does not provide a rationale for Agency action," he wrote.

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