OSHA Basics: OSHA Penalties


OSHA Basics & OSHA Penalties Image

No employer wants to get hit with a penalty from OSHA. And that's even more true since 2016, when OSHA increased those penalties significantly (and OSHA adjusted those penalties for inflation as recently as January 2, 2018).

The best reason to not run afoul of OSHA and get into citations and penalties is because OSHA compliance contributes to better health and safety at work.

But, if fear of a penalty is another reason to comply, we've got the necessary information for you below.

The Purpose of OSHA Penalties

According to the OSHA Field Operations Manual (6.1), here's the purpose of OSHA penalties:

The penalty structure in Section 17 of the OSH Act is designed primarily to provide an incentive for preventing or correcting violations voluntarily, not only to the cited employer, but to other employers. While penalties are not intended as punishment for violations, Congress has made clear that penalty amounts should be sufficient to serve as a deterrent to violations. Proposed penalties, therefore, serve the Act’s intent and criteria approved for such penalties by the Assistant Secretary effectuates this purpose.

Dollar Amounts of OSHA Penalties

OSHA has a series of different penalties, and each has a different dollar value. These are explained on this OSHA Penalties webpage and also in Section 6 of the OSHA Field Operations Manual (there's more detail in the FOM). You can find additional information in Section 17 of the OSH Act.

Here are the current monetary figures for OSHA penalties. Remember the numbers below are maximum amounts and OSHA has discretion to reduce the penalty.

  • Willful of repeated violations: $129,336
  • Serious violations: $12,934
  • Other-than-serious violations: $12,934
  • Posting violations: $12,934
  • Failure to abate: $12,934/day beyond abatement date

Penalty Factors

According to OSH 17(j) and section 6.3 of the OSHA Field Operations Manual (FOM), OSHA can consider four factors when considering penalties:

  • Gravity of the violation
  • Size of employer's business
  • Good faith of employer
  • Employer's previous violations history

And OSHA considers the following to be "other than serious:" Minimal severity: Although such violations reflect conditions which have a direct and immediate relationship to the safety and health of employees, the most serious injury or illness that could reasonably be expected to result from an employee's exposure would not be low-, medium-, or high-severity and would not cause death or serious physical harm.

Read FOM 6-3 for more specifics.

OSHA's Severity Assessments

OSHA judges the severity of a violation using the following method (OSHA considers everything below "serious"):

  • High severity: Death from injury or illness; injuries involving permanent disability; or chronic, irreversible illnesses
  • Medium severity: Injuries or temporary, reversible illnesses resulting in hospitalization for a variable but limited period of disability
  • Low severity: Injuries or temporary, reversible illnesses not resulting in hospitalization and requiring only minor supportive treatment

Penalty Adjustment Factors

The OSHA FOM explains three different penalty adjustment factors, listed below:

  • History-10% reduction possible
  • Good faith-up to 25% reduction possible
  • Size-up to 70% reduction possible

See FOM 6-6 for more.

Penalty Adjustments, Part 2--OSHA's Quick Fix Program

OSHA's got a Quick Fix Program that gives penalty reductions if an employer abates safety and health hazards during an OSHA inspection (technically, before the closing conference). This is fully explained in the OSHA Field Operations Manual (Sections 6-9 and 6-10--plus, see Table 6-6).

Penalties Repeated Violations and Willful Violations

The FOM discusses repeated violations in 6-11 and willful violations in 6-12.

Penalties for Failure to Abate

The FOM discusses failure to abate in 6-14.

Criminal Penalties

The OSHA Field Operations Manual discusses criminal (not civic) penalties in 6-18. This is how the FOM explains that.

The Act and the U.S. Code provide for criminal penalties in the following cases:

  • Willful violation of an OSHA standard, rule, or order causing the death of an employee [(Section 17(3)]
  • Giving unauthorized advance notice [(section 17(f)]
  • Knowingly giving false information [(section 17(f)]
  • Killing of a CSHO while engaged in the performance of investigative, inspection, or law enforcement functions [(Section 17(h)(2)]

Clerical & Logistical Aspects of Penalties and Payments

OSHA's Field Operations manual explains a lot of the mechanisms for how penalties are paid in Sections 6-18 to 6-25.

Conclusion: OSHA Penalties--An Overview

Because penalties often arise during an OSHA inspection (though that's not always true), you may want to download our guide to OSHA Inspections for more information.

If you found this "OSHA Basics" article the penalties OSHA may enforce helpful, you might also want to check out some of the following articles:

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