Volume 45, Issue 6 - June 2010


OSHA Stiffens Fines and Penalties for Workplace Injuries

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is implementing a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) and increasing civil penalty amounts for workplace injuries and fatalities. The changes are part of HR 2067, introduced to the House of Representatives in April by Rep. Lynn Woolsey; the “Protecting America’s Workers Act” amends the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970.

“For many employers, investing in job safety happens only when they have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA’s requirements,” says Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Higher penalties and more aggressive, targeted enforcement will provide a greater deterrent and further encourage these employers to furnish safe and healthy workplaces.”

The new SVEP is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on employers that endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law. This supplemental enforcement tool includes increased OSHA inspections in these worksites, mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections and inspections of other worksites of the same employer where similar hazards may be present.

Last year, OSHA assembled a work group to evaluate its penalty policies and determined that currently assessed penalties are too low to have an adequate deterrent effect. Based on the group’s findings, several changes to the penalty calculation system, outlined in the agency’s Field Operations Manual, are being made. OSHA officials say these changes will become effective in the next several months. The penalty changes will increase the overall 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 only $7,000 and the maximum penalty for a willful violation is $70,000. The act would raise these penalties (for the first time since 1990) to $12,000 and $250,000, respectively. The average penalty for a serious violation will increase from about $1,000 to an average $3,000 to $4,000. Future penalty increases would be tied to inflation.

“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,” says Dr. Michaels.

Those in the glass industry agree that workplace safety is critical.

“The float and fabricated glass industry on average has a 27-percent higher incident rate than manufacturing in general (based on 2008 OSHA data). This makes it all the more important that we keep our efforts focused on employee safety,” says Mike Marsala, safety and loss control manager for Guardian Industries in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Jason Kleeberger, safety manager for Viracon in Owatonna, Minn., agrees that safety must be top priority for any glass company.

“In our industry, the awareness of safety concerns in handling glass must be continuously evaluated and emphasized, especially as design trends push for larger and heavier make-up configurations,” Kleeberger says.

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