Headlines show that fatalities, injuries, and illnesses in the workplace are on a downward trend. Statistics for the last seven years prove this direction.
Over the past ten years, OSHA aggressively enforced safety across all general industries and continues to pay extra attention to employers on the Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP) list. There is no sign this focus will shift. In fact, OSHA is currently seeking a $42 million funding increase for 2017 and an additional 100 full-time staff to help improve workplace safety (Labor 2017).
Why Have OSHA Violations Increased for Some Employers?
OSHA was created to maintain safety and prevent hazards. Starting more than a decade ago, OSHA began pushing an agenda to assess violations where attention is needed. In a PBS Frontline interview with the former head of OSHA, Charles Jeffress explains the law.
In OSHA, when you cite someone for a violation, usually you cite them for failing to have a guard to keep someone from falling. But OSHA has a possibility of citing someone in an egregious manner. Instead of just citing them for failing to have one guard to keep you from falling, you would cite them for failing to have a guard for each worker. So instead of one citation, you might get 15 citations for the same violation. That's an egregious policy; it's only allowed where there is an egregious problem.
OSHA has been known to stack up fines when they've made repeated visits to locations and found hazards that continue to exist at every inspection. In instances where serious injury or death has occurred after OSHA has inspected a workplace, without removal of the hazards, the egregious policy comes into effect.
Have OSHA Violation Fine Amounts Increased?
Yes. As of August 2, 2016, OSHA increased the maximum fine from $7,000 to $12,471 per serious or other-than-serious violation. For a repeated or willful violation, the maximum fine has been increased from $70,000 to $124,709 per violation.
If OSHA feels that an employer is indifferent to safety, or an egregious problem exists, they will place the employer on the SVEP list. OSHA will perform more frequent and comprehensive inspections of workplaces on this list. The intent is to encourage employers to take safety seriously and provide the motivation to do so. Hefty and frequent fines impact your bottom line.
How Do I Prepare My Workplace for OSHA's Increased Enforcement?
There are several ways to prepare your workplace for OSHA inspections: Improving recordkeeping, implementing a whistleblower policy, performing job hazard analyses, improving safety with visual communication, and keeping up-to-date on the most common violations.
Improve recordkeeping: OSHA has focused more energy on its recordkeeping requirements, including OSHA logs, written compliance programs, and certifications. Although typically classified as other-than-serious violations, OSHA has been increasing the instances in which it has found recordkeeping violations to be “repeated” or “willful,” which carry with them a penalty increase of nearly ten times.
Implement a whistleblower policy: Create a program that encourages employees to report instances or behaviors that are hazardous or threatening. Have your HR team or a safety committee follow up on reports and create deadlines to have problems resolved.
Perform job hazard analyses: Perform self-audits. Have a team review the audit and set deadlines to fix issues. Use tools like ALARP to reduce or eliminate workplace hazards.
Stay up-to-date on common safety violations: Pay attention to the common violations and know how to avoid them. Get your guide to the Top Ten OSHA Violations to increase your safety awareness. Avoid hefty OSHA fines, while improving your facility’s safety.
Fine amounts from OSHA citations will continue to rise. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from penalties is to keep your safety program up-to-date. This means that OSHA may issue fewer citations if they can see comprehensive recordkeeping, training programs, proper equipment guarding, and safety signs.
Start now with the Facility Safety Audit Guide by Graphic Products. Eliminate hazards, improve safety, and reduce costs with this helpful resource.