United States: OSHA Changes: Are You Keeping Up?

Last Updated: June 2 2016
Article by Evan Pontz

Employers want all employees to do their work and go home safely each day.  A workplace injury is bad news for everyone.  When OSHA or a similar state safety agency gets involved, it becomes an even bigger problem for employers.  That reality is even more true today as OSHA's maximum fines have recently increased, and it has added new recordkeeping and reporting requirements that raise further concerns for employers.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's stated role is "to ensure [safe working] conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance."

Until recently, OSHA's maximum fines for a cited safety violation were limited to $7,000 for each Serious or Other than Serious violation, and no more than $70,000 for each Willful or Repeat violation.  However, recently OSHA was empowered to fine employers up to $12,471 for each Serious or Other than Serious violation and up to $124,709 for each Willful or Repeat violation.  Needless to say, that is a serious increase, and one that should give every employer extra reasons to focus on workplace safety and compliance with OSHA requirements.  If those maximum fines still don't get your attention, do you know that recent OSHA citations have included an $825,000 fine for multiple violations by a chain retail store and $1.77 million against a furniture manufacturing company?  Those fines would warrant attention for even the largest businesses!

In addition to bigger penalties, earlier this month OSHA issued a final rule intended to modernize injury data collection.  While OSHA already requires many employers to keep a record of injuries and illnesses, currently little of this information is made public or easily available to OSHA.  Under the new rule, employers in high-hazard industries will have to send OSHA injury and illness data (that the employers are already required to collect) for posting on the agency's website.  Establishments with 250 or more employees in industries covered by the recordkeeping regulation must electronically submit to OSHA injury and illness information from OSHA Forms 300, 300A, and 301.  Establishments with 20-249 employees in certain industries must electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A only.  The new requirements take effect Aug. 10, 2016, with phased in data submissions beginning in 2017.

OSHA believes that public disclosure of work injury data will "nudge" employers to increase their efforts to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.  Notably, OSHA's own access to this injury data will also help it better target its compliance assistance and enforcement resources towards businesses where workers are at greatest risk.  So those employers with many workplace injuries will be alerting OSHA to their problems.

While these requirements do not add to or change an employer's obligation to complete and retain injury and illness records under the Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illnesses regulation, it is clear that making this data public and providing it in electronic form certainly raises the stakes. And if you think this is all that is changing with OSHA's recording and reporting requirements, stay tuned for our next post!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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