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OSHA and Willful Violations: How Prior Knowledge of Fall Hazards Can Hurt Your Company

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Let’s assume for the sake of argument you have identified a potential fall hazard in your facility and invited a fall protection company to perform a site assessment.  For the purposes of this post, we will also assume that your fall protection provider agrees with your safety director and identifies a fall hazard that violates OSHA regulations.  This scenario occurs each day, and in most cases, the business owner will ask for a quote to remediate the hazard.  From here, management faces a choice: remediate the hazard or shelve the proposal.  Reasons for declining vary by company, but most of the rationalizations fall into three categories.  Employers will:

  • Choose not to act until OSHA visits or an employee is injured
  • Engineer a “home-made” solution, oftentimes without a qualified person
  • Claim there is no money set aside in the budget to address the fall hazard

Employers choosing to ignore known fall hazards are penny-wise and foolish because management has prior knowledge of an unsafe work area.  Once a qualified person assesses the situation and finds an OSHA violation, ignoring the situation places your company on the fast-track to what OSHA deems a willful violation.  Willful violations are defined as follows:

“…A violation that the employer knowingly commits or commits with plain indifference to employee safety. The employer either knows that what he or she is doing constitutes a violation or is aware that a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate it.”

Willful violations carry penalties ranging from $5,000.00 – $70,000.00 per incident not resulting in the death of an employee.  Instances of willful violations causing fatalities carry maximum fines of $250,000.00 for an individual and $500,000.00 for a corporation.  Penalties for “lethal” willful violations can also include prison sentences for C-Level managers and company owners.

Despite these facts, some business owners still choose to ignore unsafe working conditions and demonstrate a blatant disregard for OSHA safety standards.  To their way of thinking, none of the above matters because OSHA has yet to knock on their door – and – these business owners can claim no prior knowledge of the fall hazard.  You might be tempted to play the “lack of prior knowledge” card, but before you do, think again.  Remember, your employees…

  •  …Saw a qualified individual inspect the facility and deem the work area unsafe
  • …Have prior knowledge if/when management elects not to address fall hazards
  • …Have specific rights to file a complaint if they are dismissed or punished for participating in OSHA’s Confidential Whistleblower Program

Inspections prompted by accidents will make matters even worse.  OSHA investigators will interview your employees to determine if management had prior knowledge about a fall hazard and elected to ignore it.

When you add up the additional fines for willful violations and the negative public attention associated with being labeled an unsafe company, the costs of indifference far outweigh the price tag of remediation.  If you suspect your facility has a fall hazard that violates OSHA standards, contact a qualified fall protection company to perform an assessment.   In instances where you lack the budget to implement a permanent solution, a safety specialist may recommend modification of work processes or suggest a temporary fall protection solution to comply with OSHA standards.  To learn more about willful violations and OSHA Fall Protection Standards or to arrange a site assessment, contact the safety experts at Diversified Fall Protection for further assistance.

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Did You Know?

It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe, OSHA compliant work environment for all workers?