The new bipartisan budget passed by both the House and Senate, and signed by President Obama on November 2, 2015, will increase the penalties issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for the first time in over 25 years. Typically, federal agencies are able to raise their fines every year to keep pace with inflation but there was an exemption for OSHA, which prevented OSHA from raising its fines along with inflation rates. The new budget removes the exemption for OSHA, allowing it to now increase penalties to adjust for inflation from 1990 all the way to 2015. The increase in fines will be equal to 25 years worth of inflation in one fell swoop! Going forward, OSHA will make yearly cost-of-living increases in its fines.
The penalties are expected to increase as much as 80% and should take effect on August 1, 2016 as follows:
- Other-than-serious violations: maximum fine was $7,000, now increasing to $12,600
- Serious violations: were $7,000, now increasing to $12,600
- Willful violations: were $70,000, now increasing to $126,000
- Repeat violations: were $70,000, now increasing to $126,000
Construction Industry Beware
While all industries will be subject to the increased penalties, the construction industry gets inspected more frequently than other industries.
Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels announced that OSHA will focus less on the number of inspections it performs and “move to a new enforcement weighting system that assigns greater value to complex inspections that require more time and resources.” The increased rigor of OSHA inspections means that it will be looking closer and harder for potential violations.
How Should You Prepare?
Employers should be aware of all the regulations that apply to their business. Employers should also perform self-audits to ensure they are in compliance with the applicable regulations. OSHA’s standard interpretation letters are useful when performing a compliance audit. OSHA’s Compliance Assistance Quick Start page is another good compliance tool. It even has a specific page for the construction industry. If you have Spanish-speaking employees, the Spanish Language Compliance Assistance Resources page is useful.
Photo: Whalen Jack