Federal Budget Includes First Raise in OSHA fines in 15 years

According to a news release by SC&RA, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not increased its maximum penalties since 1990, but that likely will change in dramatic fashion next year. A bipartisan provision in the budget agreement negotiated in the House and Senate and signed into law Nov. 2 would effectively raise maximums for alleged willful, repeat and serious violations by over 80 percent, in order to catch up with inflation. Moreover, the legislators also established provisions for annual adjustments in later years.

Less than a month before enactment of the provision, Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, requested an increase in maximum fines during testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. “The most serious obstacle to effective OSHA enforcement of the law is the very low level of civil penalties allowed under our law, as well as our weak criminal sanctions,” Michaels testified on Oct. 7. “For example, the Environmental Protection Agency 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. 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.”

Raising the maximum fines in line with the Consumer Price Index x for the catch-up boost requires OSHA to publish an interim final rule by July 1, 2016, which would allow the adjustment to take effect by Aug. 1, 2016.

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