“Unscrupulous employers often consider it more cost effective to pay the minimal OSHA penalty and continue to operate an unsafe workplace than to correct the underlying health and safety problem. The current penalties do not provide an adequate deterrent.”
Those words came from OSHA administrator David Michaels in his testimony in favor of the Protecting America’s Workers Act (PAWA).
The bill would include public employers under OSHA and increase whistleblower protections.
But the major attention has been paid to the parts of the measure that would increase OSHA fines. The bill would:
- increase the maximum penalty for knowingly violating a rule that results in the death of an employee to 10 years in prison
- increase penalties for willful or repeat violations that involve a fatality to as much as $250,000, and
- create automatic increases in fine amounts by tying them to inflation.
In his testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee, Michaels pointed out that the average OSHA fine is about $1,000. The median fine for cases in which a worker was killed is about $5,900.
Michaels went on to point out that other federal agencies have the ability to issue much larger fines for infractions that don’t include human death. For example, the Department of Agriculture can impose a $130,000 fine on milk processors for willful violations of the Fluid Milk Promotion Act. TV and radio stations can be fined $325,000 for indecent language. The EPA can issue $270,000 fines for Clean Air Act violations.
Michaels also supports PAWA’s provision to increase the number of criminal prosecutions for workplace deaths and serious injuries.
What do you think about Michaels’ assertion that OSHA penalties are too low to matter to most businesses? Should the penalties for the most egregious violations, those that result in serious injury or death, be significantly increased? What about prison time for company managers when a worker is killed on the job? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.