On Jan. 2, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a Federal Register notice announcing an increase in the maximum penalty amounts for violations of federal Occupational Safety and Health standards and regulations.
Under the new penalty structure, the maximum penalty allowed for “serious” and “other-than-serious” violations is $12,934. In addition, the maximum penalty allowed for “failure-to-abate” violations is $12,934 each day that an employer fails to abate the specific violation. Finally, the maximum penalty allowed for “willful” and “repeat” violations is $129,336, 10 times the maximum permitted for “serious” and “other-than-serious” violations.
States that have their own occupational safety and health standards and regulations also must raise their maximum penalty amounts for violations by the same amount. Going forward, the maximum penalty amounts will be increased every year to adjust for the rate of inflation.
The regulated community should take notice of these continuing increases in the maximum penalty amounts for OSHA violations. Companies seriously should consider the immediate and future monetary risks associated with accepting proposed OSHA citations and penalties as written.
While accepting a proposed “serious” citation item with a small penalty may not be financially problematic, a company nonetheless may be exposing itself to significant monetary risk down the road.
OSHA could use the company’s acceptance of the proposed “serious” citation item to issue a “willful” or “repeat” violation to the company at a later date. The likelihood of this happening increases if the company has multiple facilities or multiple worksites or if OSHA tends to inspect its industry on a continuing basis, for whatever reason.
In a few years, the maximum penalty amount for a single “willful” or “repeat” violation may be close to $150,000, depending on the rate of inflation over time.
About the author: Michael T. Taylor is chair of the Labor & Employment Practice’s OSHA group at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig. He focuses his practice on the representation of employers in a variety of industries regarding OSHA matters across the country. Over the last 14 years, Taylor has defended scores of employers during enforcement litigation, many of which have involved a significant injury, fatality or catastrophic event in the workplace. Taylor also provides OSHA compliance counseling, OSHA inspection counseling, OSHA whistleblower representation and OSHA due diligence reviews for clients. He has wide-ranging experience in the OSHA world, including his prior public service as general counsel to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, the federal agency in charge of the trials and appeals of workplace safety and health disputes between federal OSHA and the regulated community.