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OSHA Penalties and How to Avoid Them

OSHA Penalties and How to Avoid Them

No matter what industry, OSHA penalties can really affect a business and workplace or job site. Although it may seem like they are impossible to avoid, there are some things you can do to avoid being penalized by OSHA. Standards and safety guidelines are regularly released, in order to give you a plan and path to follow that will lead to your ultimate safety. However, sometimes these can seem overwhelming and impossible to follow. So what are some simple steps you can take to make sure you are following all standards and avoid OSHA penalties?

Pete Hamlin, with the Antea Group, came up with five tips that could help you avoid OSHA penalties. Although they were originally designed for the food industry, these tips can help anyone in any industry be sure that they are fully aligned with OSHA Requirements. They are as follows:

  1. Encourage employees to speak up about any safety issues they see. Empower supervisors to have one-on-one meetings with employees, or provide an anonymous suggestion box so workers feel comfortable sharing concerns.
  2. Engage workers in ongoing training and make safety a standing agenda item for team meetings. This boosts awareness and ensures everyone is on the same page.
  3. Proactively plan for inspections. Conduct mock interviews with team members so they know their rights during an OSHA inspection, or conduct “surprise” inspections so people know what to expect.
  4. Conduct an environmental, health, and safety audit. An audit can uncover risk and opportunities for improving your safety process.
  5. Implement an EHS management system like ISO 14001 or OHSAS 18001. Though voluntary, these systems can help businesses stay in alignment. Certification can also provide a competitive advantage and differentiate your organization in the marketplace.

Be sure you implement safety practices into your work site on a daily basis. These tips can help you know where you need to improve, and also know where your strengths are. Avoiding OSHA penalties is not as difficult or impossible as it may sound; continuously check your safety and improve where you see you need to improve.

OSHA Penalty Increase!

Two rules were announced by the U.S. Department of Labor this past week, and will lead to this major increase in OSHA’s maximum penalty for workplace safety violations. The first rule covers the majority of penalties assessed by OSHA. The second will focus on penalties related to temporary guest worker programs. No matter what, these rules will result in a major penalty increase for safety violations. How much of an increase? 78%! There has been a pretty significant gap in time since the last fine adjustment, so this penalty increase is set to “catch up,” in order to make up for the time gap.

To give you an idea of how much of an increase 78% actually is, take a look at the significant difference in fines: The top penalty for serious violations will rise from $7,000 to $12, 471. The maximum penalty for willful or repeated violations that once ranged from $5,000 to $70,000 will increase, to anywhere between $8,908 to $124,709. These changes will become effective starting August 1, 2016.

While this may seem like a negative change, some employers are excited about the increase. Adjusting the penalties can lead to significant benefits for workers; not to mention, this will level the playing field for responsible employers, as they shouldn’t have to compete with those who don’t follow the law. Maybe now employers everywhere will be more wary of the safety violations they are committing.

In the News: OSHA Penalties

We were somewhat surprised to hear about a construction employer who recently received a 30-day prison sentence for violating federal fall protection standards. It can be easy to find fault with OSHA when they hand out penalties, but it’s harder to excuse this particular employer for not having a safe workplace.

Why Such a Strict Penalty?

One of the employees suffered a fatal fall at the construction site of a new home in Naples, Florida. While we don’t have all the details of the report, we know that the employer didn’t ensure the use of fall protection systems and didn’t train his employees to recognize potential fall hazards.

Fall Protection Gear

While fall protection gear may be cumbersome, it constitutes the most essential safety equipment for working at heights. Employees working 6 feet or higher off the ground are required by law to wear fall protection gear. You may find yourself in work conditions that don’t require full fall protection, but we still recommend donning it for added safety.

Fall protection gear includes three main components: anchorage points, bodywear, and connective devices. Anchorage points are crucial in stopping your fall. They are load-rated and must be capable of supporting at least 5,000 lbs. per employee attached. In your work, you will come across permanent anchor points, temporary anchor points, and lifelines. Bodywear may change based on the task you’re performing. The most common types of bodywear are full-body harnesses and body belts. Connective devices vary, but you will likely see snap hooks, lanyards, and self-retracting lifelines used to connect your body wear to anchorage points.

Fall Hazards

Fall protection violations have consistently ranked number one over the years in OSHA’s top ten most-cited violations. Wearing fall protection gear is such a simple thing, but it can literally save your life.

To avoid falls (and potential penalties), observe these guidelines in your workplace:

  • Stop and assess your job environment
  • Fasten your harness properly
  • Train affected employees
  • Confirm all equipment is in safe condition
  • Clear work area of tools, debris before working
  • Wear complete fall protection equipment

This eye-opening case reminds us to spend the extra money and take the extra time to train employees on fall protection, especially regarding the hazards in your workplace. Facing OSHA penalties, including jail time, will cost your company far more. In this instance, it cost a man his life.

Penalty Amounts Adjusted for Inflation

As we know, OSHA tends to change policies every now and again. This also applies to penalty amounts. Recently, they released a new statement saying that the cost of violations was going to increase. As of that point, it has changed again with the new year. While it may not be much, it’s enough of a change that you should be aware of the difference. Below are the penalty amounts adjusted for inflation as of January 13, 2017.

Type of Violation Penalty
Posting Requirements
$12,675 per violation
Failure to Abate $12,675 per day beyond the abatement date
Willful or Repeated $126,749 per violation

Even just the smallest changes are something that you should be prepared to handle. These are violations that are very non-specific, meaning these changes could apply to any neglected or abused standard. Be careful not to fall into that category. If you are in a state that operates their own OSH plan, it is still a requirement that you adopt maximum penalty levels that are at least as effective as federal OSHA’s. There is no escaping the heavy fines that follow serious violations. The only way to avoid these fines are to not commit any violations in the first place. In order to do that, you must be trained adequately enough to know the standards, requirements, and safest practices to follow on your worksite.

Always be trained in each area of work you are assigned to perform. If you need training, talk to your employer or check out the links to our training below:

Training Kits

Online (eLearning) Training Courses

Onsite Training