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OSHA poised to hike fines by up to 82 percent

It’s time to catch up.

That’s what federal regulators want the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency that regulates workplace safety, to do with its fine schedule. It seems fines haven’t increased for more than two decades.

OSHA is adjusting fines aaccount for inflation since its last increase in 1990. The calculation is based on the consumer price index from October 1990 through October this year. The numbers for this year, however, haven’t been calculated yet.

The fines could go up as much as 82 percent, according to Whitney Selert, a senior of counsel member at Fisher and Phillips LLP.

Today’s fines for repeat and willful violations — with a current maximum fine of $70,000 — would be set at over $125,000 if the increase went to 82 percent, according to Fisher and Phillips’ website. The site also shows a current maximum $7,000 fine for serious and failure-to-abate violations moving to more than $12,000 following the same increase pattern.

Through a rulemaking process at OSHA, fines could be set lower than the max allowable by the new legislation, but industry experts aren’t expecting any leniency.

After the initial increase, OSHA will set its fines to increase annually to track inflation. The initial increase is set to start in August 2016, according to the legislation.

Selert said OSHA will likely release a final decision on the amount of the initial increase next summer.

OSHA avoided making fine increases after being exempted from a bill requiring federal agencies to increase fines to inflation. It was one of a few other federal agencies listed as exempt in the legislation in 1990.

Employers could be more motivated to fight OSHA if the fees go higher.

“The motivation to contest and fight some of these fines go up because the amounts are so much higher, potentially,” said Selert.

This could lead to things like litigation, contesting on the merits and lawyer involvement, rather than settlement, he added.

Employers do have options to protect themselves before disaster strikes. A free service offered through the Nevada Safety Consultation and Training Section can help employers identify and curb health and safety issues at the micro and macro level.

SCATS can also help with training employees and improving an employer’s health and safety program.

“It’s almost like a compliance audit where they’ll come out and look at your space to make sure you’ve got everything in order,” said Selert.

The industry could see a lot more use of this type of program, according to Selert.

“I think you’ll see more widespread use of that because the potential fines are so high, and they don’t want to get cited,” he said.

As far as industry practices getting tighter because of any higher fines, Selert said there could be some changes but most in the industry stay in line with the necessary protocols anyway.

But there are bad seeds out there.

“Obviously, you’ll always have an employer who skirts the rules, but most are pretty work-safety conscious,” said Selert.

 

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