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OSHA News: Higher Penalties, Longer Inspections, and Increased Criminal Prosecutions For 2016

Feb 29, 2016 4:36:51 AM

osha logoChanges at OSHA are making the cost of non-compliance steeper than ever. OSHA penalties have been frozen since 1990 thanks to a provision of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Act that excluded the workplace watchdog group from raising fines based on annual inflation rates. Last year’s congressional budget bill included a provision removing this exemption, freeing OSHA to raise penalties by 80% effective August 1, 2016. Also, OSHA is now eligible to make annual increases in penalties for non-compliance to keep pace with inflation. In case you are curious about the specifics of the increased penalties, here is what to expect:

• Citations other than serious violations are increasing from a maximum threshold of $7,000 to $12,600
• Serious violations will increase from $7,000 to $12,600
• Willful and repeat violations are rising from $70,000 to $126,000

OSHA claims they have never held staff to inspection quotas, but there is evidence to suggest a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality. Inspectors will conduct longer (and more through) reviews, which could result in more citations. When you add a higher penalty structure with a more aggressive inspection process, OSHA compliance is more important than ever.

Although many employers are focusing on higher OSHA penalties, it is short-sighted to view the costs of non-compliance exclusively from this perspective. Non-compliance means more accidents and injuries, which leads to higher workmen’s compensation costs and higher insurance premiums. An unsafe workplace puts a damper on employee morale and productivity too. What’s more, some companies shy away from vendors with poor safety records.

DOJ DOL logosOSHA isn’t the only federal agency making news in the safety sector during 2016–the Departments of Justice and Labor are making changes too.

We’ve come a long way since Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, but 13 U.S. workers still die on the job each day.  Given this troubling statistic, the Departments of Labor and Justice have signed a memorandum of understanding, pooling their resources to prosecute C-suite and front-line managers and supervisors demonstrating a willful disregard for worker safety.

This enhanced spirit of cooperation could lead to significant fines and prison sentences for employers and individuals found guilty of violating OSHA safety requirements.  In the past, criminal prosecutions for OSHA violations have been rare, but all signs point to more aggressive criminal prosecution for violations of OSHA law.  “Strong criminal sanctions are a powerful tool to ensure employers comply with the law and protect the lives, limbs, and lungs of our nation’s workers,” says OSHA Administrator David Michaels.

Each year, fall protection violations remain at the top of OSHA most frequently cited standards, and falls are the leading cause of occupational injuries and workplace deaths. If you have concerns over potential OSHA citations—and more importantly, if employee safety is a priority, perhaps it is time to commission a fall hazard assessment. By partnering with the safety experts at Diversified Fall Protection, you can start addressing your facility’s unsafe work areas and avoid OSHA’s higher penalties for non-compliance.