Buried in the pages of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, that was signed by President Obama in November, is a provision for increased fines for OSHA Safety Violations. This is the first adjustment to federal safety fines since 1990. Fines for repeat or willful violations will increase from $70,000 per violation to $125,000; and from $7,000 to $12,500 for serious violations. These increases allow fines to keep pace with inflation.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 4,679 workers died in work related incidents in 2014. The increased fines are to provide a disincentive to employers who might otherwise accept injuries and workplace deaths as a normal part of doing business.
There are a number of aspects of OSHA that employers may not even be aware of. Many employers believe that since they don’t work with machinery, in warehouses, etc. they are not covered by OSHA. However, they are. OSHA defines an employer as “one who is engaged in business affecting commerce and has employees.” OSHA provides guidelines on workplace safety in terms of workplace violence; accommodating transgender workers; ergonomic injuries and the like. Any workplace injury can summon an OSHA investigation.
Employers should be prepared by having policies and procedures in place to deal with incidents, should a workplace accident occur. With the inevitable, albeit much delayed arrival of the winter season in the North East, workplace accidents are more prevalent. Employers should ensure that each and every employee is following safety policies and procedures.
It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that they are maintaining proper records. Employers must record an injury or illness that meets the general recording criteria, if it results in any of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness. There are other recording requirements, not all of which can be contained in one small article. There are a number of exceptions to the recording requirement, based on, for example, the size of the company. Employers should contact a professional safety adviser to determine if those exceptions apply to their company.
As with all regulatory, statutory and case precedents, companies need to be even more diligent when drafting policies and procedures. If you need any assistance with regard to this or any other labor or employment matter, please contact Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates at (516) 921-3400 or e-mail info@pmpHR.com. This is how you avoid litigation: “educate don’t litigate.”