by Dwayne Towles
May 12, 2016
OSHA has not increased their civil penalties for OSHA citations since 1990, but not for lack of trying. However, hidden within the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 signed by President Obama on November 2015 is a provision called the “Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015” which requires OSHA to significantly increase its civil penalties. Under the Act, there is a one-time “Catch Up Adjustment” that will occur this year resulting in a penalty increase of approximately 80%. Yearly increases, based on the Consumer Price Index, will occur each following year.
To implement these changes, OSHA is expected to adjust the civil monetary penalties through an Interim Final Rule sometime soon. By law, the increased penalty adjustment must come into effect by August 1st of this year. Although OSHA is not required to take advantage of the full penalty increase, many are speculating that it will. This means that the current penalty cap on serious violations of $7,000 would grow to $12,600, and the penalty limit on willful and repeat violations would increase from $70,000 to $126,000.
OSHA has lobbied for years to increase the civil penalties they can impose when an employer is cited for a violation. On October 7, 2015, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, told a House subcommittee that the “most serious obstacle to effective OSHA enforcement of the law is the very low level of civil penalties allowed under our law, as well as weak criminal sanctions,” and that “OSHA penalties must be increased to provide a real disincentive for employers accepting injuries and worker deaths as a cost of doing business.”
This law does not automatically apply to states regulated by State Plans, but since State Plan programs must be at least as effective as Federal OSHA, many are of the opinion that Federal OSHA is likely to push for state plans to increase civil penalties as well. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year or two.
Either way, this is good time for employers to take a look at their current safety programs and:
- Ensure that your safety programs are comprehensive and up to date;
- Ensure that employees receive all necessary safety training, can demonstrate understanding of the training, and that all training is well-documented;
- Conduct routine hazard assessments of your workplace and mitigate any identified hazards as quickly as possible; and
- If you haven’t already, consider integrating one of the recognized Safety Management Systems into your organization’s operational process.