OSHA Work Safety Violation Penalties Increase by 80% After August 1, 2016

After August 1, 2016, OSHA violation penalties will increase by nearly 80%. The max penalty increase from $70,000 to $125,000. Is this enough to encourage employers to provide safe work places?

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OSHA Violation Penalties Finally Increase

For years, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) sought to increase penalty amounts for violations of workplace safety regulations in the U.S. The last time the penalty amounts were changed was over 25 years ago in 1990. Finally, Congress responded with the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 which was signed into law in November. The Act requires OSHA to increase its civil penalties, effective after August 1, 2016. Any citations issued after August 1 will be subject to the increased penalties so long as the violations occurred after November 2, 2015 (when the law was enacted).

New OSHA Violation Penalty Amounts

Violation Type Current Max Penalty New Max Penalty
Serious/Other Than Serious $7,000 per violation $12,471 per violation
Failure to Abate $7,000 per day beyond the abatement date $12,471 per day beyond the abatement date
Willful or Repeated $70,000 per violation $124,709 per violation

The increases are significant, roughly 80% higher than current amounts, but are in line with inflation calculated over the past 20 years. The penalty amounts will be increased annually after this year to account for future inflation.

Related: OSHA Violations, Legal Info for Injured Workers

In addition, states that operate their own workplace safety plans are required to increase penalties. About half of the states have OSHA approved state plans including California, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Washington.

OSHA Violation Penalty Amounts – Historically Not Much of a Deterrent

The penalty amounts have never been much of a deterrent. Employers have continued to violate critical OSHA regulations. Recent data supports this. In 2012, OSHA issued 423 willful violations (i.e., where the employer knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement or acted with plain indifference to employee safety). In 2013, OSHA issued 319 willful violations, and in 2014, 439 willful violations were issued. This data clearly shows that a $70,000 fine (the largest fine possible) hasn’t prevented employers from committing serious OSHA violations. Granted, the number of citations for OSHA violations has gradually decreased over the years. However, this is often attributed to better enforcement and reporting, not the amount of the penalties.

Hopefully, the increased penalties will make a difference and deter employers from committing serious violations of OSHA regulations. Workplace safety begins and ends with the employer. Only time will tell.

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