A maximum fine of $15,625 for a serious workplace safety violation is set to hit a multiplier in late March, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration begins fining employers for every case of violation.
This means that 10 construction workers without helmets could potentially mean a fine of $15,625 times 10, or $156,250. It’s a worst-case scenario, but it’s a potential reality that employers will face as the agency aims to make violations that could lead to death or serious injury more costly, experts say.
So-called “instance-by-instance” penalties are nothing new: the agency has had the measure in place since 1990, though it currently applies only to violations deemed “serious.”
The new program, announced Jan. 26 with a 60-day waiting period before applying, is intended to improve accountability among employers who repeatedly violate occupational health and safety rules, the Department said. of the work in a note.
The program won’t just apply to repeat offenders: Virtually every employer is on notice, according to legal experts, who say the move is in line with the Biden administration’s efforts to improve workplace safety.
This is “fully consistent with this administration as part of the larger initiative to increase enforcement against employers,” said Andrew Brought, a Kansas City, Missouri-based attorney at Spencer Fane LLP.
“It’s that kind of new sheriff-in-town mentality where enforcement is king and they’re using every tool in their toolbox to increase enforcement,” said Eric Conn, founding partner of Conn Maciel Carey LLP based in in Washington, note that the fines could add up.
“Imagine you’re running a metal manufacturing plant, you have 100 presses, and OSHA determines they’re all inadequately supervised,” he said. “(OSHA) could come in and instead of citing a violation, with a $15,000 fine for failing to secure machines, it could issue a separate machine security violation for each machine in a facility. That’s 100 cars, so instead of a $15,000 penalty, it’s $1.5 million. That’s a lot.”
The new enforcement tool will also apply to things like injury registration, with the potential for substantial fines for insufficient records, he said.
John Ho, chairman of the OSHA study at New York-based Cozen O’Connor PC, said that while the enforcement process will lead to heavier fines, more employers are likely to contest them, and OSHA will have its own office. lawyer busy to prove his cases.
“This will obviously give companies a lot more incentive to contest these subpoenas,” he said. “Historically, unless there has been a fatal accident or serious injury, most employers are not hit with six-figure penalties. But if you see a lot more citations and more fines, on a purely financial basis alone will you give these companies more incentive to sue them.”