On Safety

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The future of OSHA fines

November 9, 2015
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Penalties for OSHA violations are about to get steeper. Much, much steeper.

By Aug. 1, 2016, the maximum penalty amount OSHA gives could increase by as much as 80 percent. This is due to a provision buried in a two-year congressional budget agreement that allows OSHA to make a “catch-up adjustment” to increase its maximum penalty amounts to account for inflation over the past 25 years.

OSHA must issue an interim final rule sometime in the next nine months to adjust the penalty levels. Here’s a picture of what we might see:

Penalty Current maximum Inflation-adjusted maximum
Willfull $70,000 $126,000
Repeat $70,000 $126,000
Serious $7,000 $12,600

These are the maximum amounts OSHA could give out. Quite often, the agency doesn’t issue penalties that high. So how would the average penalties change when adjusted for inflation?

Current average OSHA penalty for serious violations* Inflation-adjusted average
$1,972 $3,549

Median OSHA penalty for worker deaths* Inflation-adjusted average
$5,050 $9,090

*Source: AFL-CIO Death on the Job – The Toll of Neglect, 2015 

Headlines are made when OSHA cites employers with high penalties, with some fines in the tens of millions of dollars. Here are some historically high penalties doled out to employers, with both the originally proposed penalty and an inflation-adjusted penalty for a look at what could have been:

Employer Issuance Date Total Issued Penalty Inflation-Adjusted Penalty
BP Products North America Oct. 29, 2009 $81.34 million $146.41 million
BP Products North America Sept. 21, 2005 $21.36 million $38.45 million
IMC Fertilizer/Angus Chemical Oct. 31, 1991 $11.55 million $20.79 million
Imperial Sugar July 25, 2008 $8.78 million $15.80 million
O&G Industries Inc. Aug. 3, 201 $8.35 million $15.03 million

It’s worth remembering that OSHA will still make adjustments in its assessed penalty based on business size, good faith and other factors. But for labor advocates who have been clamoring for years for OSHA to have a bigger bite, these adjustments have been a long time coming.

The opinions expressed in "On Safety" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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