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The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 651 et seq., authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to make inspections and question employers, pursuant to 29 U.S.C.S. § 669(b), and to issue subpoenas to obtain the production of evidence pursuant to 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 657(b), 669(b). These powers are extended to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health under 29 U.S.C.S. § 671(c).
Appellant employer challenged a district court order granting the petition of appellee National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for enforcement of appellee's subpoena duces tecum, in its action against appellant, for employee medical records that appellant possessed. A union had complained to appellee that workers had allergic reactions from a chemical at appellant's factory. Appellee issued the subpoena in the course of its investigation under 29 U.S.C.S. § 669(a)(6). Appellant urged that appellee lacked authority to examine such records under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 651 et seq.
Did the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lack authority to issue and enforce a subpoena duces tecum to examine appellant employer’s medical records?
The court affirmed the order upon the district court's finding that the subpoena met the criteria for judicial enforcement, as appellee had reasonably construed 42 C.F.R. 85.5(a) (1979) in seeking the employee medical records and such records were relevant to its authorized inquiry. While the strong public interest in facilitating appellee's investigation justified the minimal intrusion into the employees' privacy as to such records, the court required appellee to give prior notice to those employees and remanded the case to the district court.