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2020 OSHA Civil Penalties Update

Nov 20, 2020 3:29:47 PM

Current Civil Penalties for Unsafe Workplace Violations

In 2015, the Department of Labor (DOL) created a requirement to adjust maximum OSHA penalties for inflation by January of each new year. The new rates for OSHA were made public and have now taken effect for 2020.

Type of Violation Penalty Minimum Penalty Maximum
Serious $964 per violation $13,494 per violation
Other-Than-Serious $0 per violation $13,494 per violation
Willful or Repeated $9,639 per violation $134,937 per violation
Posting Requirements $0 per violation $13,494 per violation
Failure to Abate N/A $13,494 per day unabated beyond the abatement date
[generally limited to 30 days maximum]
Specific penalty amounts, as of January 15, 2020, are detailed in the chart above


OSHA’s Obligation to Define and Provide for Worker Safety

OSHA, as an agency of the DOL, is charged with setting and enforcing worker safety standards and providing training, outreach, education, and assistance to companies and their workforce. The agency is also charged with enforcing a variety of whistleblower statutes and regulations.

The ongoing mission of OSHA requires periodic announced and unannounced inspections of work settings to assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women. The increased penalty amounts apply to federal OSHA states. The states that operate their own occupational safety and health programs are required to have their penalty structures consistent with federal OSHA to provide equal enforcement capability.

Although national in scope, OSHA defers to state-based Occupational Safety via an OSHA approved state plan in the following 21 states and Puerto Rico: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

Gravity Based Scoring Influences the Amounts of the Penalty

The gravity of a violation is defined by OSHA’s Gravity Based Penalty (GBP)

  • A high gravity violation is one with a GBP of $13,494.
  • A moderate gravity violation is one with the GBP ranging from $7,711 to $11,566.
  • A low gravity violation is one with a GBP of $5,783.

Maximum Civil Penalties Allowed

For 2020 the following MAXIMUM civil penalties can be applied based on intention and degree of severity of the violation:

  • Other than Serious violations, $13,494
  • Serious violations, $13,494
  • Repeat violations: $134,937, (up from $126,749);
  • Willful violations, $132,598 (up from $126,749);
  • Failure to abate, $13,494 (this amount is charged per day unabated beyond the required abatement date, but is generally limited to 30 days maximum).

How Does Fall Hazard Safety Fit In?

OSHA’s ongoing mission requires periodic announced and unannounced inspections of work settings to assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women. It is well recognized that among the most frequently cited OSHA violations for serious risk on the job, Ladders (#6 of the top 10 violations) and Fall Protection (# 1 most-frequently cited) are areas that consistently require more attention, protection and worker training. If your facility needs a fall protection safety audit to get ready for a planned or unplanned OSHA visitation, we can help you remove risk and shift liability for worker safety at heights through our structured engineering and training programs.

One of the biggest mistakes we see a reactive versus proactive stance when it comes to fall protection. All too often, comprehensive fall protection programs are considered in response to a serious or fatal accident. A proactive approach DOES require a financial commitment to fall hazard remediation. That said, the costs associated fall protection pale by comparison to the $1.5 to $3 million the Centers for Disease Control and the National Safety Council associate with fatal workplace falls.

A thorough fall hazard assessment is an important first step in minimizing your company’s financial exposure to OSHA fines, but the real goal is more than compliance and avoiding fines. The ultimate aim is creating a safe working environment that ensures everyone safely returns home at the end of their shift.

About OSHA civil penalties and annual rate adjustments:

The DOL is required to adjust maximum OSHA penalties for inflation by January 15 of each new year. This was enacted based on the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015. The intent of increasing the penalty amounts annually was to have civil monetary penalties “maintain their deterrent effect,” according to Loren Sweatt, the DOL’s principal deputy assistant secretary for occupational safety and health.