Nov 2015

Providence Employers Could Soon Face Higher OSHA Fines

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyWhen an employer violates safety regulations which have been passed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the employer could be fined by OSHA. OSHA fines are separate and distinct from any workers’ compensation claims made by employees after a work injury occurs. OSHA fines can occur any time violations are identified, even if no injury has yet occurred. OSHA fines also must be paid by employers (not by workers’ comp insurers). The fines are intended to act as a deterrent to make sure employers don’t willfully violate safety rules or do not allow serious safety violations to¬†persist.

Unfortunately, OSHA fines are not very effective for many reasons, including a lack of OSHA inspectors to conduct routine inspections and the fact the fines are very low. Fortunately, one of these problems could soon be solved by the passage of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015.

Budget Bill Could Increase OSHA Fines for Employer Workplace Safety Violations

The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 2015 is expected to be included in the upcoming federal budget bill, as Congress and President Obama have come to an agreement on the language of the Act. The Act addresses the fact OSHA penalties have not risen since 1990 by imposing a “catch-up increase.”

Lawmakers based the catch-up increase on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which has risen 78.24 percent between October of 1990 (the last time the OSHA fines were raised) and September 2015. As a result of the rise in the CPI, the increase in OSHA penalties would be set at approximately 80 percent. This increase would be required to go into effect no later than August of 2016 if the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act passes.

An 80 percent increase in OSHA fines means the maximum fine employers could face for a repeat or a willful violation of worker safety regulations would jump from the current $70,000 penalty up to $124,768 and the maximum penalty for each serious violation would go up from the current maximum of $7,000 to a new maximum of $12,477.

After the initial increase in the fines, the penalties would automatically rise each year, also based on the changes in the Consumer Price Index. This would help to ensure the penalties do not fall so far behind in the future. However, the head of Occupational Safety and Health Administration could come to an agreement with the Office of Management and Budget not to impose further additional increases in the years immediately following the passage of the Act since the initial 80 percent increase is so great.

The Inflation Adjustment Act will hopefully pass in order to give OSHA penalties some actual teeth to help ensure employers follow OSHA rules. Other problems with OSHA enforcement will remain, including the fact OSHA is too understaffed to conduct routine inspections of businesses as often as they should. Still, at least raising the fines would be a step in the right direction towards improving workplace safety conditions.

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