OSHA establishes severe violator program, increased penalties

May 10, 2010

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Washington, D.C., in an effort to address urgent safety and health problems facing Americans in the workplace, is implementing a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) and increasing civil penalty amounts.

"For many employers, investing in job safety happens only when they have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA's requirements," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Higher penalties and more aggressive, targeted enforcement will provide a greater deterrent and further encourage these employers to furnish safe and healthy workplaces for their employees."

SVEP is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law. This supplemental enforcement tool includes increased OSHA inspections in these work sites, including mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections, and inspections of other work sites of the same employer where similar hazards and deficiencies may be present. SVEP is set to become effective before June 1.

In 2009, OSHA assembled a work group to evaluate its penalty policies and found currently assessed penalties are too low to have an adequate deterrent effect. Based on the group’s findings and recommendations, several administrative changes to the penalty calculation system, outlined in the agency's field operations manual, are being made. These administrative enhancements will become effective in the next several months.

The penalty changes will increase the overall dollar amount of all penalties while maintaining OSHA’s policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith.

The average penalty for a serious violation — one capable of causing death or serious physical harm — will increase from about $1,000 to an average $3,000 to $4,000. The current maximum penalty for a serious violation is only $7,000, and the maximum penalty for a willful violation is $70,000. The Protecting America’s Workers Act would raise these penalties, for the first time since 1990, to $12,000 and $250,000, respectively.



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