OSHA citations are routinely given to companies throughout the United States. Organizations large and small routinely face citations for hazards that may harm workers, and the abatement process can be arduous and confusing.
This article breaks down OSHA citations, common violations, potential penalties, and the courses of action an employer may take after receiving a citation.
What is an OSHA Citation?
A compliance officer may inspect a workplace as part of a routine inspection, or following a complaint about hazardous conditions. Following the inspection, an OSHA area director reviews the findings and determines what, if any, citations will be issued.
OSHA then issues a citation that informs the employer of any regulations and standards they may have violated, along with proposed penalties. The employer must post a copy of each OSHA citation at or near the place where a violation occurred for three days or until the violation is abated, whichever is longer.
OSHA citations are not issued as a penalty for an injury or fatality. They are issued to address violations of OSHA standards and for safety hazards identified by the OSHA compliance officer.
Most Common OSHA Citations
The same 10 offenses have shown up on OSHA’s annual list of the most common violations every year between 2011 and 2015. Those violations were, in 2015:
OSHA increased maximum penalties in August 2016 for the first time in 25 years. The new penalties, which followed a directive from Congress that required federal agencies (such as OSHA) to adjust civil money penalties based on inflation, led to a 78% rise in potential penalties.
Penalties may vary, depending on the type of citation given by OSHA. Here are the types of citations, along with the penalties that may be proposed.
Overview: A “willful” violation occurs when the employer knowingly commits a violation, or when a violation is committed with indifference to the law. The employer either knows what they are doing is a violation of OSHA standards, or they are aware a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate that hazardous condition.
Potential penalties: There is a maximum of $124,709 for a willful violation. A proposed penalty may be adjusted downward, depending on the size of the business and its history of previous violations. No credit is given for good faith efforts when weighing possible penalties. If an employer is convicted of a willful violation that resulted in the death of an employee, the offense is punishable by a court-imposed fine, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.
Overview: An employer may be cited for a “serious” violation when the hazard could likely result in death or serious physical harm, and the employer knew about or should have known about the hazard.
Potential penalties: A mandatory penalty of up to $12,471 for each violation can be proposed. This may be adjusted downward, based on the employer's good faith efforts to comply with OSHA standards, their history of previous violations, the gravity of the alleged violation, and the size of the business.
Other Than Serious Violation
Overview: A citation for an “other than serious” violation is issued when death or serious injury wouldn’t have occurred due to a particular safety hazard.
Potential penalties: A penalty of up to $12,471 for each violation may be proposed. This penalty may be adjusted downward by as much as 95 percent, depending on the employer's good faith efforts to comply with OSHA standards, their history of previous violations, and the size of business.
Overview: Employers may be cited for a “repeated” violation when they have previously been cited for the same (or a similar) violation and the earlier citation(s) have been finalized. If an employer is currently contesting a citation, that violation may not serve as the basis for a “repeated” violation.
Potential penalties: A fine of up to $124,709 for each such violation may be proposed.
Failure to Abate Prior Violation
Overview and potential penalties: Failure to abate a prior violation may bring a civil penalty of up to $12,471 for each day the violation continues beyond the specified abatement date.
De Minimis Violation
Overview: A de minimis violation occurs when the violation has no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. Whenever de minimis conditions are found during an inspection, they are documented with other violations, but they are not included as a part of the OSHA citation.
Responding to an OSHA Citation
OSHA must issue any citations within six months of the alleged violation. When an employer receives a citation, they may choose one of these three responses:
Formally contest the violation: Employers have 15 business days after receiving a citation to contest the violations or penalties. At that point, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission is called upon to independently review the appeal.
Appeal the citation: When an employer elects to appeal a citation, OSHA sets up an informal conference with the OSHA Area Director to discuss the violations, penalties, citations, and other relevant details. All involved parties may work to reach a settlement agreement—in which penalties may be reduced and the seriousness of the violation downgraded—if the violations have been resolved.
Pay the fine: An employer may also choose to pay all applicable fines in full, without an appeal or contest.
If an employer receives a violation, OSHA will provide instructions for each of the three potential responses.
OSHA Citation Solutions
Employers, employees, and OSHA investigators can all agree: The best way to avoid citations is to comply with OSHA standards. Graphic Products offers numerous resources for helping employers establish safe workplaces.