Agency officials said the severe violator enforcement program will address workplace safety and health problems by taking aim at the worst offenders and increasing civil penalty amounts.
David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said the severe violator enforcement program is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law. The supplemental enforcement tool includes increased OSHA inspections at these work sites, including mandatory follow-up inspections, and inspections of other work sites of the same employer where similar hazards and deficiencies may be present. The program will become effective by mid-June.
Last year, OSHA assembled a work group to evaluate its penalty policies and found the penalties were too low to have an adequate deterrent effect. Based on the group's findings and recommendations, Michaels said several administrative changes to the penalty calculation system are being made. The changes, which are expected to go into effect in the coming months, will increase the overall dollar amount of all penalties while maintaining OSHA's policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith.
The current maximum penalty for a serious violation -- one capable of causing death or serious physical harm -- is $7,000, and the maximum penalty for a willful violation is $70,000. The average penalty for a serious violation will increase from about $1,000 to an average $3,000 to $4,000.
No substitute for legislation.
Michaels said monetary penalties for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act have been increased only once in the past 40 years despite inflation. However, legislation being debated in the House of Representatives would make significant changes if enacted. The Protecting America's Workers Act, introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., would raise these maximum penalties to $12,000 and $250,000 respectively. OSHA officials support the goals and many specific provisions of the act, including the expansion of rights of victims and their families and coverage for public employees.
"Although we are making significant adjustments in our penalty policy within the tight constraints of our law, this administrative effort is no substitute for the meaningful and substantial penalty changes included in the Protecting America's Workers Act," Michaels said. "OSHA enforcement and penalties are not just a reaction to workplace tragedies. They serve an important preventive function. OSHA inspections and penalties must be large enough to discourage employers from cutting corners or underfunding safety programs to save a few dollars."
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June 21, 2010
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