The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is finally making a push to catch up with the fluctuating value of the dollar. In November, President Barack Obama signed into law a piece of legislation called the “Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015” which was a part of the “H.R. 1314 Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.” This provision amended the “Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990,” and will allow the OSHA fines to be adjusted with the increase in inflation. In addition, OSHA has been given the authority to adjust fines in accordance with changes in the Consumer Price Index for future issues of inflation.
David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, said in a statement made to the Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, the most serious obstacle to effective OSHA enforcement is the very low level of civil penalties allowed under our law, as well as our weak criminal sanctions.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can impose a penalty of $270,000 for violations of the Clean Air Act, and a penalty of $1 million for attempting to tamper with a public water system,” Michaels said. “Yet, the maximum civil penalty OSHA may impose when a hard-working man or woman is killed on the job, even when the death is caused by a willful violation of an OSHA requirement, is $70,000.”
The amount of time for which violators may be incarcerated is also an argument given by him for the maximum increase in fines. Criminal provisions in the OSH Act are weaker than those in virtually every other safety, health, and environmental law.
“The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act all provide for criminal prosecution for knowing violations of the law with penalties up to 15 years in jail,” Michaels said. “Under the OSH Act, criminal penalties are limited to those cases where a willful violation of an OSHA standard results in the death of a worker and to cases of false statements or misrepresentations.”
Michaels went on to say that the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Resource Conservation Acts can provide criminal prosecution for up to 15 years for knowingly endangering lives while the maximum incarceration penalty for a violation that costs a worker’s life is six months in jail, which is considered only a misdemeanor crime.
The next step in the process is implementation guidance from the Office of Management and Budget on carrying out the proposed fine increases. OSHA will then be required to publish an interim rule by July 1st. The fines will then begin by the official deadline in August.
What this means
What this means to you
“While nobody likes being fined or having a regulatory agency interfere with their business, we have to remember that OSHA’s goal is to ensure that employees are able to return home at night. If you view OSHA fines as representing the importance of human lives, how can you put a dollar amount on the life of someone’s son, daughter, husband, or wife? When you think about it this way, the fines are still relatively cheap. Especially when you consider that many times the cost of compliance is usually cheaper in the long run. How much does that safety meeting or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) really cost you compared to medical expenses, increased insurance premiums, loss of business reputation, or civil lawsuits? I really don’t want to ever see a company get an OSHA fine; I would rather see that money and time spent on efforts to ensure a safe workplace.”
Sean Finkbone SSH, CSHO
Senior Safety Manager
R2M Engineering is here to help you stay in compliance and make sure these fine increases don’t affect your company. Contact us today at (806) 783-9944 or visit our contact page www.R2Meng.com/contact if you have any questions or concerns.