A new report shows OSHA gives, on average, 36% reductions in fines in cases involving worker deaths. The organization that wrote the report recommends OSHA stop giving such large penalty reductions in settlements.
OSHA’s Discount on Danger, a report by the Center for Progressive Reform, says, “OSHA should drive a harder bargain and obtain greater protection for workers as part of its settlement process in appropriate cases.”
A provision of the OSH Act permits employers to leave hazards unabated while an appeal of OSHA fines is pending before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Those appeals can sometimes drag on for years.
To get companies to fix hazards quickly, OSHA area offices often enter into settlement agreements with companies to cut fines by substantial amounts in exchange for the employer’s agreement to fix hazards immediately, establish additional safety procedures, allow follow-up inspections, and make other improvements.
CPR looked at three OSHA fine scenarios and calculated the average reduction in fines from initial penalty to final amount (data in each case is for most recent year available):
- in worker death cases, the median initial penalty was $9,800, and the median final penalty was $6,300, a 36% reduction
- in cases with willful violations resulting from employee complaints, the initial median penalty was $140,000, and the median final penalty was $98,000, a 30% reduction, and
- in cases against poultry processors, the initial median penalty was $12,940, and the median final penalty was $7,000, a 46% reduction.
CPR’s report contains recommendations for OSHA:
- Discourage area offices from agreeing to large discounts and other concessions
- Penalty reductions should be off the table when the economic benefits of noncompliance exceed the proposed penalties
- Area offices should demand employers do more than simply agree to comply with the law
- Citations should only be withdrawn, modified of reclassified when there is a clear error by the inspector, when evidence doesn’t support the citation or when the employer has produced convincing evidence to support a valid affirmative defense, and
- Discourage area offices from settling certain types of cases involving unconscionable violations, such as those involving trench collapses, machine guarding, lockout/tagout, or cases involving deaths or hospitalizations.
OSHA penalties will go up starting Aug. 1, 2016. The maximum serious penalty will increase from $7,000 to $12,471. The maximum for willful and repeat violations will increase from $70,000 to $124,709. Starting in 2017, OSHA fines can go up each year based on inflation.
CPR says to get companies to adopt practices that will keep employees safe, OSHA should take full advantage of its new, larger fines by giving fewer discounts on them in exchange for quick settlements.
What do you think about CPR’s recommendations? Let us know in the comments.