OSHA Gets Tough on Audits and Penalties, May Affect Employers Earlier than Expected

Those higher fines that federal OSHA plans on implementing Aug. 1, can actually start applying to any workplace safety violations that were cited in inspections as early as February of this year.
That’s because OSHA can take as long as six months after an inspection to issue citations and the penalties it proposes for the employer. This sobering news comes as OSHA finalizes new regulations regarding electronic reporting of injuries and has started conducting more probing investigations than it has in the past.
Under the federal budget for 2016, fines for the most common violations – serious and other-than-serious – fines are expected to rise to $12,471 from the current $7,000. Also, willful and repeat violations will rise to a maximum of $124,709 on Aug. 1.
The final penalties have yet to be set and pundits say that the Labor Department has until July 1 to publish the new interim final rules. OSHA may choose to set a lower figure if it concludes that the new maximums would have a negative economic impact or that the social costs would outweigh the benefits.
The higher penalties are also coming as OSHA has revised its requirements for recording and submitting records of workplace injuries and illnesses. Once the new rule takes effect, you will be required to electronically submit the recorded information for posting on the OSHA website if you have 250 or more workers.
This new rule will also cover those establishments with 20 to 249 employees that are classified in 67 specific industries which have historically high rates of occupational injury and illness. These businesses must also electronically submit information from their 2016 OSHA 300A Summaries to OSHA by July 1, 2017. Beginning in 2019, the submission deadline will be changed from July 1 to March 2 for the previous year.
In addition, OSHA is set to approach inspections differently, trading frequency for rigor, which could mean that once a company is being inspected there’s a chance it will incur multiple penalties.
Specifically, it will switch from trying to reach a certain number of inspections per year to conducting more rigorous inspections. That could mean more penalties per company because more can be uncovered during longer inspections.
More detailed inspections will likely mean more employee interviews by OSHA investigators, providing the time to wait for sample results and make return visits, and generally diving deeper. That can mean more citations and bigger penalties.

What you can do now
Companies that want to ensure they’re in compliance should consider getting a hazard assessment.
You can also arrange for a compliance audit that will identify any gaps and create an action plan to close them.
Companies should also look at a trend analysis of the most common injury types that happen with their employees and create safety activities around those, which is a step toward mitigating or eliminating accident occurrences.
Those activities combined should keep you from popping up on OSHA’s radar.