New law directs U.S. Department of Labor to “catch up” penalties to inflation.
Fines assessed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) increased by 78 percent as of Aug. 1.
OSHA’s top penalty for serious violations rises from $7,000 to $12,471, and its top penalty for willful or repeated violations rises from $70,000 to $124,709.
The increases are the result of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act passed by Congress in 2015.
The new law directs civil agencies to adjust their penalties for inflation every year, and requires that agencies “catch up” their fines to inflation since the last adjustments, though the amount of the increase is capped at 150 percent of the existing penalty amount. OSHA fines have not increased since 1990 because the agency was exempt from a previous law that adjusted civil penalties according to inflation. Going forward, the agency will continue to adjust its penalties for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index.
“Civil penalties should be a credible deterrent that influences behavior far and wide,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a press release. “Adjusting our penalties to keep pace with the cost of living can lead to significant benefits for workers and can level the playing field for responsible employers who should not have to compete with those who don’t follow the law.”
The U.S. Department of Labor announced two interim rules for civil penalties in late June. The first rule covers the vast majority of penalties assessed by OSHA, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, and the Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The second rule was issued jointly with the Department of Homeland Security to adjust penalties associated with the H-2B temporary guest worker program.
Among other increases, the WHD’s penalty for willful violations of the minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act will increase from $1,100 to $1,894.
The new fines apply only to penalties assessed after Aug. 1, 2016, whose associated violations occurred after Nov. 2, 2015. States that operate their own Occupational Safety and Health Plans are required to adopt maximum penalty levels that are at least as effective as the federal penalties.
OSHA recognizes that the increased penalties may impact smaller businesses disproportionately, and will continue to provide penalty reductions based on the size of the employer and other factors, according to an industry alert posted on the U.S. Department of Labor website.
More information on the individual penalty adjustments can be found on a chart available at www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/2016-inflation-penalty-chart.pdf.
When lightning strikes
OSHA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have issued a new fact sheet on lightning safety when working outdoors. Lightning is often overlooked as an occupational hazard, but employers need awareness about lightning hazards to ensure their workers’ safety. Many lightning victims are caught outside during a storm because they did not act promptly to get to a safe place, or they go back outside too soon after a storm has passed. If signs of approaching thunderstorms occur, workers should not begin any task they cannot quickly stop. The fact sheet covers hazard reduction, emergency action plans, lightning safety training, warning systems and more. For more, visit www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3863.pdf
Summer heat safety
In 2014, 2,630 workers in the U.S. suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job. Heat illnesses and deaths are preventable. OSHA’s summer heat safety campaign reminds employers that they must protect their workers from excessive heat. An employer should establish a complete heat illness prevention program that includes:
- Provide water, rest and shade.
- Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they build a tolerance for working in the heat.
- Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
- Monitor workers for signs of illness.
For more, visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html.