The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is set to increase the maximum fines for employers who violate safety standards by 78 percent, effective Aug. 1.
The increase is the first since 1990 and is part of a larger effort by the Department of Labor to adjust penalties in connection with inflation.
"This is the first time in 25 years that we're actually seeing an increase in OSHA fines," David Quezada, vice president of loss control for small business insurer EMPLOYERS, said. "Since 1990, they were exempted from the law that requires federal agencies to keep pace with inflation."
The increases will affect the entire spectrum of OSHA violations: the cap on serious, other-than-serious, and posting requirement violations will increase from $7,000 per violation to $12,471 per violation; likewise, the cap on a "failure-to-abate" violation will increase from $7,000 to $12,471 per day beyond the required abatement date; and willful or repeated violations will jump from $70,000 per violation to $124,709 per violation.
For a complete list of OSHA requirements and violations, check out OSHA's small business handbook, which lays out the legal requirements and explains how employers can meet the standards. EMPLOYERS also offers their own resource guide to small businesses looking for information on OSHA compliance.
In anticipation of the fine increases, Quezada suggested employers – even those currently in compliance – take this opportunity to revisit their safety standards and procedures, as well as fill in any gaps or pre-emptively correct any potential violations.
"I think right now is a really good time for employers to review their current safety programs and safety efforts. Update your safety training and implement procedures that aren't currently in compliance with OSHA standards," Quezada said. "Sometimes small businesses might consider OSHA fines to be the cost of doing business, but I think right now with the increase in penalties this is an opportunity to review their current safety efforts."
Quezada added that safe practices are "a moral obligation" and that the costs add up well beyond the financial penalties that might be incurred.
"I don't think employers realize how costly injuries can be and those costs do add up quickly," he said. "To me [best safety practices] is just the right thing to do. And, of course, there's the financial benefit of doing it. It lowers costs like workers’ comp, increases productivity and morale, and helps you to recover lost days."