OSHA is set to increase fines for workplace violations in 2016. Fines for some infractions could be 80% higher as OSHA adjusts for inflation, a move not made in 25 years. Congress has allowed OSHA nine months to make the changes, giving OSHA until August 1, 2016 to adjust the penalty amounts. The Congressional bill also allows OSHA fines to adjust for inflation on an annual basis going forward to avoid such large adjustments in the future.
Current maximum penalties for willful and repeat violations will increase from $70,000 to $126,000 and serious maximum penalties from $7,000 to $12,600. Often OSHA does not issue penalties for the maximum amount, but rather accounts for factors such as business size and good faith. OSHA currently averages $1972 for a serious violation penalty; with inflation, that amount would be $3549. When a worker fatality occurs, the median OSHA penalty is $5050; with inflation, that amount would be $9090.
One of the ways OSHA can increase penalties is through the use of repeat violations. The definition of repeat violation has expanded to include other locations owned by the business and the repeat violation period has increased from three to five years.
OSHA sometimes uses large fines to make a statement. In the case of BP Products North America, a penalty was issued after the 2005 gulf oil platform disaster of $21.36 million. Had that been issued under the new guidelines, the penalty would have been $38.45 million.
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By Stacey Wagner