Employers who fail to meet OSHA standards or the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety & Health Act face citations for seven types, or categories, of violations. OSHA distributes news releases announcing a company's violation and its imposed penalty, creating unfavorable publicity. Fines also make violations a financial burden.
The only OSHA violation that doesn’t carry a fine is the de minimis. A de minimis situation in the workplace does not affect worker safety or health, but does not follow exact standards. Some de minimis violations may involve deviations in distance measurements, use of incorrect color or variations in testing. For example, a compliance inspector may assign a de minimus violation if you don't test a machine because it's not being used, or the letters on your exit signs are smaller than the dimensions in the standard.
Some may consider the failure to post violation to be minor, however, a posting violation can cost your business up to $7,000 in fines per missing document. The OSH Act requires employers with 11 or more workers to post notices as well as post the company's annual 300A Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses.
The other-than-serious violation also carries a maximum $7,000 fine. These are violations that have the potential to cause an occupational illness or an accident but have a low probability of causing serious harm or death. Failing to install a guardrail at a height from which an employee fall would result in a sprained ankle, rather than a broken neck is an example of an other-than-serious violation.
More Severe Violations
When it's probable that a hazardous condition could lead to a fatality, serious physical harm or serious illness, the violation is serious. Amputations concussions and fractures fall under OSHA's definition of "serious physical harm,'' while hearing loss, poisoning and cancer are applicable occupational illnesses. OSHA must prove that the employer knew, or should have known about the condition and the harm it could cause before assessing a fine of up to $7,000 per serious violation.
OSHA has three degrees of willful violation. Willful in OSHA terms, means "intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health." The existence of a hazardous condition of which an employer, or an employee's supervisor, was aware and deliberately did nothing to bring the situation into compliance with OSHA standards or the General Duty Clause, qualifies as a willful violation. Permitting employees to work without safety equipment that had been ordered, or allowing new hires to begin working without proper training are willful violations. Citations for this type of willful violation have fines ranging from $5,000 to $70,000.
When a willful violation results in a death, it becomes a criminal willful violation with a $250,000 fine for an individual or $500,000 fine for a corporation, plus up to six months in prison. A second-conviction willful violation, which is one involving more than one fatality, carries the same fine with a prison sentence of up to one year.
OSHA assesses repeat violations when an employer is cited a second time for a hazardous condition found during a previous inspection that took place within the past five years. The nature of the hazard can be the same or similar, and in the same work area or involve different machinery. For example, the initial citation issued three years ago involved machine A and the same safety concern was found on machine B in a different location during yesterday's inspection. Repeat violations have a hefty penalty. Although the maximum per-violation fine for a repeat violation is $70,000, OSHA can multiply the initial penalty by as much as 10 per violation.
The failure to abate violation, also known as failure to correct, differs from the repeat violation as it becomes applicable after a post-citation inspection. Any non-compliant conditions for which a citation was issued that still exist when the compliance inspector returns are failures to abate violations, fined at $7,000 per day starting with the originally assigned abatement date for each violation.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA News Releases; Enforcement
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA Field Operations Manual
- W.W. Grainger: OSHA Recordkeeping Requirements (Updated for 2015)
- Legal Liabilities in Safety and Loss Prevention; Thomas Schneid
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: Federal Employer Rights and Responsibilities Following an OSHA Inspection-1996
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: OSHA Regional News Release