|OSHA Increases Fines and Issues Final Rule|
If workplace safety wasn’t already a top priority for high-hazard industry employers, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) just issued big incentives—in the form of harsh penalties—to make it so.
Beginning August 1, 2016, fines for safety violations that occurred after November 2, 2015 will increase by a whopping 78%. Maximum penalties for serious violations increase from $7,000 to $12,471, and willful or repeated violations receive a fine increase from $70,000 to $124,709 per violation. OSHA’s new fine hikes are the first in 25 years and are the result of provisions in the 2016 federal budget bill that mandate agencies keep penalties in line with inflation.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez calls the mandate "a credible deterrent that influences behavior far and wide. Adjusting our penalties to keep pace with the cost of living can lead to significant benefits for workers and can level the playing field (for) responsible employers who should not have to compete with those who don’t follow the law."
The measures are about more than just keeping up with inflation. Worker safety and employer accountability are at the core of the OSHA fine adjustments and subsequent final rule, issued on May 11, 2016. Under the new rule, for the first time workplace injury and illness data will be posted on OSHA’s website for public access.
OSHA expects these new requirements to encourage employers to increase their efforts to make employee safety a top priority.
“Since high injury rates are a sign of poor management, no employer wants to be seen publicly as operating a dangerous workplace,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Our new reporting requirements will ‘nudge’ employers to prevent worker injuries and illnesses to demonstrate to investors, job seekers, customers and the public that they operate safe and well-managed facilities. Access to injury data will also help OSHA better target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources at establishments where workers are at greatest risk, and enable ‘big data’ researchers to apply their skills to making workplaces safer.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than three million workers suffer a workplace injury or illness every year. Construction injuries—namely falls—accounted for 20.6% of total private industry fatalities last year, according to the BLS. The new OSHA rule and fines will have a particularly major impact in heavy-duty industries.
Employees will now be more able to report injuries and illnesses without fear of retaliation, and employers must have a reasonable procedure for reporting work-related injuries that does not discourage employees from reporting.
It’s good to keep in mind that these measures are intended to protect everyone—from worker to employer. Companies with solid safety records will see their efforts lauded in the public eye and will be able to recruit the best employees. Happy, healthy workers thrive in safe conditions, and productivity increases, pure and simple.
When citations are issued for violations, employers have the right to request informal conferences with their local OSHA office to negotiate penalty reductions, extensions of abatement dates, and deletions and/or reclassifications of violations. Taking efforts to correct not just the classification of but the cause of violations can ensure a company’s soon-to-be-public safety record and bottom line rise to the top.