OSHA has been unable to increase the civil penalties it can impose when an employer is cited for a violation since 1990.  But that is all about to change.  Hidden within the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, signed by President Obama on November 2, 2015, is a provision requiring OSHA to significantly increase its civil penalties.  A one-time “Catch Up Adjustment” will be based on the percentage difference between the Consumer Price Index in October 2015 (to be released later this month) and October 1990 – resulting in a penalty increase of approximately 80%.  This means that the $7,000 cap on serious violations would grow to $12,600 and the $70,000 limit on willful and repeat violations would increase to $126,000.  Had OSHA applied this increase to fiscal year 2014 penalties, which totaled $143.6 million, the total would have jumped to $258.5 million.  After this initial adjustment is made, OSHA will be required to adjust penalties every year using the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index.

Although the agency is not required to take the full penalty increase, it probably will.  OSHA has tried for years to convince Congress to increase the civil penalties the agency can impose when an employer is cited for a violation.  Most recently, on October 7, 2015, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, told a House subcommittee that 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 weak criminal sanctions,” and that “OSHA penalties must be increased to provide a real disincentive for employers accepting injuries and worker deaths as a cost of doing business.”

The budget changes go into effect July 1, 2016 and the increased penalties will take effect by August 1, 2016 in all states regulated by Federal OSHA.  The law does not automatically apply to states regulated by State Plans, but since State Plan programs must be at least as effective as Federal OSHA, State Plans are likely to increase civil penalties as well.

This change adds yet another powerful weapon to OSHA’s growing enforcement arsenal.  OSHA under the Obama administration has made liberal use of the General Duty Clause, weighted inspections, and new reporting requirements – all of which have resulted is OSHA inspections of industries and employers that it has never targeted before.  Now more than ever, employers should be prepared for a potentially costly encounter with OSHA.

Employers are well-advised to:

  • Ensure that safety programs are comprehensive and up to date
  • Ensure that employees receive all necessary safety training, can demonstrate that they understood the training, and that all training is well-documented
  • Assess the workplace for hazards and address any identified hazards as quickly as possible
  • Talk with union representatives or employees at non-unionized facilities about their safety concerns and address any bona fide concerns as quickly as possible

Taking these steps will demonstrate the employer’s commitment to safety and help reduce the possibility of receiving what soon will be very costly OSHA citations.

Valerie Butera, Member of the Firm in the Labor and Employment practice, will present a complimentary webinar, hosted by Midwest Employers Casualty Company, on January 27 at 11:00 a.m. EST titled “OSHA Forecast: Developments to Watch in 2015 and Beyond.”

This webinar will delve into OSHA issues that will impact a wide range of industries in 2015. In addition to a greater focus on enforcements and inspections, changes will occur for recording injuries and illnesses in the OSHA 300 Injury and Illness Recordkeeping log as well as reporting changes of severe injuries or illnesses.

For more information and to register for this webinar, click here.

See below for a recording of my recent webinar, “OSHA Forecast: Developments to Watch in 2015 and Beyond.”

As I discuss, in 2015, many more industries will for the first time be required by OSHA to record injuries and illnesses in the OSHA 300 Injury and Illness Recordkeeping log. The reporting of severe injuries or illnesses is also changing, and we anticipate a greater focus on enforcements and inspections.

Topics include:

  • Where we are now and the direction of OSHA in 2015
  • Recording and recordkeeping requirements
  • Whistleblowing and its impact on your business
  • Preparing for increased OSHA inspections of incidents
  • Rulemaking and potential changes in current programs
  • Ebola and other infectious diseases

The video is also available on Epstein Becker Green’s Youtube channelclick here to download the slides.

OSHA Law Update - Top BlogsI am pleased to announce that LexisNexis has recognized this blog as one of the “Top Blogs for Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Issues” for 2014.

According to LexisNexis, this year’s honorees include “the best of the best—those legal blogs that provide insightful analysis and those business-oriented blogs that offer valuable tidbits of practical information and best practice tips for employers, insurers, risk managers and other professionals.”

In recognizing our blog, LexisNexis notes that “members of the practice group offer a plethora of posts on workplace safety and related concerns” and highlights several recent blog entries including posts about Black Friday safety policies and issues for retailers, employer strategies to address Ebola in the workplace, and OSHA’s new guidance on hospital safety issues, among others.

We are very honored that others value the content of our blog. We know that employee safety is of utmost concern to most employers and those issues, combined with increased regulatory and enforcement pressures from the Occupational Health & Safety Administration, mean employers are seeking information they can use to help prepare and protect their businesses, now more than ever.

Our blog can be the first step in gathering important information. Our posts are an extension of the full gamut of occupational safety and health law services my colleagues and I in Epstein Becker Green’s Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) practice offer to a diverse range of clients throughout the United States, from counseling on safety and health matters to representing management in safety and health litigation arising out of enforcement actions in both federal and state OSHA-administered plans.

Please stay tuned for more and be sure to subscribe via email – see the right-hand margin to enter your email address. Thank you!