California Labor Code Section 6304.5 - Interpretation

In 1999, the Legislature amended Labor Code section 6304.5 to allow occupational safety and health standards and orders promulgated under the Labor Code to be used "to establish standards and duties of care in negligence actions against private third parties." Labor Code section 6304.5 provides: "It is the intent of the Legislature that the provisions of this division, and the occupational safety and health standards and orders promulgated under this code, are applicable to proceedings against employers for the exclusive purpose of maintaining and enforcing employee safety." In Elsner v. Uveges (2004) 34 Cal.4th 915, the California Supreme Court noted that "the key sentence of Labor Code section 6304.5 is in its second paragraph: 'Sections 452 and 669 of the Evidence Code shall apply to this division and to occupational safety and health standards adopted under this division in the same manner as any other statute, ordinance, or regulation.' Evidence Code section 452 allows judicial notice of state statutes and regulations. Evidence Code section 669 allows proof of a statutory violation to create a presumption of negligence in specified circumstances. It codifies the common law doctrine of negligence per se, pursuant to which statutes and regulations may be used to establish duties and standards of care in negligence actions." (Elsner, supra, 34 Cal.4th at p. 927.) However, in considering the retroactivity of the 1999 amendment to Labor Code section 6304.5, the Elsner court concluded the amendment did not expand a defendant hirer's duty of care and therefore could be applied retroactively. (Elsner, supra, 34 Cal.4th at pp. 937-938.)