Federal agencies Fines/penalties

OSHA settlement policy puts workers at risk, report claims

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Washington – The “deterrent effect” of OSHA fines takes a hit when the agency reduces penalties in cases involving willful violations and worker deaths – and OSHA too often agrees to reduce fines in exchange for an employer’s promise to quickly abate hazards, according to a report released June 30 by the Center for Progressive Reform.

OSHA’s Discount on Danger: OSHA Should Revise Its Informal Settlement Policies to Maximize the Deterrent Value of Citations states that during the past eight years, OSHA has issued final penalties at a median of 25 percent lower than its initial proposed penalties in fatality cases. The median penalty in such cases was $5,800, which report authors claim is “less than the cost of an average funeral.” The report also notes that penalty reductions were common in the poultry processing industry, which saw OSHA lower fines by a median of 40 percent from 2008 to 2016.

The report offered three recommendations for OSHA to improve worker safety and employer accountability:

  • Create national guidelines to discourage OSHA area offices from “informally” settling some cases.
  • Instead of requiring employers to abate only the hazards that caused a specific health or safety violation, pursue enhanced settlement terms such as formal injury and illness prevention plans, third-party audits of existing hazards and practices, and companywide hazard abatement.
  • Explore new ways to engage workers and their representatives in the settlement process.

“Federal law required an act of Congress to increase the amount OSHA is allowed to fine companies that put their workers in danger,” Thomas McGarity, member scholar at CPR and a contributing author of the report, said in a press release. “But the agency doesn’t need congressional legislation to fix the way it settles citations with scofflaw employers or to maximize the deterrent effect of the fines it gives to companies that break the law.”

On June 30, OSHA announced two interim final rules that will allow the agency to increase civil penalties for safety and health violations.

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