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OSHA triples fines for serious safety violations

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Saying that the current limits don’t act as enough of a deterrent, OSHA is increasing penalties for serious safety violations. The new policy raises the average fine from about $1,000 to between $3,000 and $4,000 for a serious violation—one that could cause serious injury or death. Legislation pending in Congress—the Protecting America's Workers Act—calls for higher limits.

Plus, OSHA this month plans to launch a Severe Violator Enforcement Program that calls for “a more intense examination” of work sites where previous safety violations have been found. Details: www.osha.gov/dep/svep-directive.pdf.

Last year, OSHA assembled a work group to evaluate its penalty policies and found currently assessed penalties are too low to have an adequate deterrent effect. Based on the group's findings and recommendations, several administrative changes to the penalty calculation system are being made. These administrative enhancements will become effective in the next several months.

The penalty changes will increase the overall dollar amount of all penalties while maintaining OSHA's policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith.

The current maximum penalty for a serious violation, one capable of causing death or serious physical harm, is only $7,000 and the maximum penalty for a willful violation is $70,000. The average penalty for a serious violation will increase from about $1,000 to an average $3,000 to $4,000.

Monetary penalties for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act have been increased only once in 40 years. The Protecting America's Workers Act would raise these penalties, for the first time since 1990, to 12,000 and $250,000, respectively. Future penalty increases would also be tied to inflation. In the meantime, OSHA will focus on outreach in preparation of implementing this new penalty policy. For more information on the penalty policy, visit www.osha.gov/dep/administrative-penalty.html.

"Although we are making significant adjustments in our penalty policy within the tight constraints of our law, this administrative effort is no substitute for the meaningful and substantial penalty changes included in PAWA," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. "OSHA enforcement and penalties are not just a reaction to workplace tragedies. They serve an important preventive function. OSHA inspections and penalties must be large enough to discourage employers from cutting corners or underfunding safety programs to save a few dollars."

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