Employers can expect a spike in OSHA penalties under new policy

As part of a longer-term enforcement plan, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is moving forward with a new, stricter administrative penalty policy that became effective October 1, 2010. Many experts felt that OSHA’s penalties, which have been around since the early 1970s, were too low to act as a deterrent. A handful of penalty adjustments will have a much wider, harder-hitting effect on employers.

Under the new policy, the time period for reviewing an employer’s past history of OSHA violations – to determine a “repeat” violation and any penalty increases or reductions – will expand from three to five years. An employer who has been cited by OSHA for a high-gravity, serious, willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violation within the last five years will receive a 10% penalty increase, up to the statutory maximum. (At the same time, any employer who has been inspected in the last five years and has none of these violations will receive a 10% penalty reduction.)

Among the other adjustments with the new policy:

• High-gravity, serious violations under OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP) don’t have to be grouped but, rather, can be cited as separate violations with their own penalties

• OSHA officers can consider the gravity of serious violations (the severity and probability of an injury/illness resulting from a hazard) to issue penalties ranging from $3,000 to $7,000

• Employers with 251 or more employees will not receive any penalty reduction for employer size

• Good-faith procedures will continue, where employers can earn a reduction if they have a solid safety and health program in place, and are clear of any high-gravity, serious, willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations

• Also retained is the 15% “quick fix” reduction for employers who immediately address any hazards identified in an inspection

• The minimum proposed penalty for a serious violation will increase to $500, and the minimum penalty for a posting violation will increase to $250 (if OSHA previously provided the company a poster)

In light of OSHA’s new penalty policy, you should carefully audit your safety and health program, remove all workplace hazards, enhance your safety practices, and properly document accidents and injuries. Check out our OSHA recordkeeping forms and tools for clear direction and easier compliance.

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