This blog was updated in January 2023, to reflect the annual increases in civil penalties for OSHA violations published by The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on January 12, 2023, effective January 17, 2023.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with enforcing standards that ensure employers provide employees with safe and healthful working conditions. Compliance with OSHA regulations, as well as mitigation of losses following inspections or work accidents, is essential to not only a business’ brand and reputation but also its bottom line.
At Hendershot Cowart P.C., our Houston attorneys have cultivated a reputation as one of Texas’ leading authorities on OHSA defense law. From ensuring compliance and providing time-sensitive assistance following workplace incidents to navigating the legal pathways of violations and citation defense, we provide the comprehensive counsel and representation clients in a range of industries require when protecting their rights and interests.
As part of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act passed by Congress in 1990, and amended by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, the Department of Labor began reviewing civil penalties for OSHA violations on an annual basis. The first increase occurred in 2016. Penalty amounts have increased annually since then.
These fines are implemented for six categories of violations, ranging from minor to extremely hazardous. Employers cited for violations will be exposed to recommended or mandatory penalties based on the classification of the violation.
What Is the Maximum Fine for an OSHA Violation?
De Minimis Violation
As the least severe violation classification, de minimis violations are technical violations of OSHA rules that do not affect employee safety or health. These violations do not result in citations or fines.
These violations have a direct relationship with workplace health and safety but are considered other-than-serious because they are unlikely to result in serious injuries or death. Employers cited for this class of violation face a maximum penalty of $15,625 per violation (compared to $14,502 in 2022). Depending on the circumstances and various factors (such as an employer’s good faith, compliance efforts, previous violations, and size of the business) OSHA inspectors may choose to eliminate fines or reduce them by as much as 95%. Given the opportunity for mitigating fines, it becomes important for employers to take swift and decisive action, and to work with proven lawyers with experience in this field.
Violations are classified as serious when there is a substantial risk of serious injury or death posed by hazards an employer knew or should have known about, but did not address. Serious violations pose a $15,625 per violation (compared to $14,502 in 2022), which may be reduced based on various good faith factors, as well as the nature of the violation. Common serious violations include slip or trip hazards, exposure to hazardous chemicals, and failures to provide proper training for equipment operation.
Employers that knowingly commit violations, or commit violations despite knowledge of the law and standards, face considerable penalties and consequences for willful violations. To constitute a willful violation, employers must know that their conduct violates OSHA standards, or must be aware that hazardous conditions existed in the workplace and took no reasonable steps to address it. Depending on the severity of a willful violation, employers can face fines up to $156,259 per violation (compared to $145,027 per violation in 2022). Unlike other violations, OSHA typically does not factor in an employer’s good faith when citing and penalizing employers for willful violations, but may adjust penalties based on the business’ size and history of violations.
Repeated violations are viewed harshly by OSHA, and occur when employers have been cited for a violation that is the same or highly similar to a previous citation they received within the past five years. Previous citations must be final in order to serve as the basis for a repeated violation. Maximum fines of $156,259 per violation may be enforced.
Failure to Abate Prior Violation
Employers cited for violations are given a date by which they must remedy the issue. Failing to do so by the specified date is considered a failure to abate the prior violation, and it poses a $15,625 fine per day beyond the abatement date.
Citations can cost your company in numerous ways, and mishandling citations can only exacerbate the problem. In addition to helping clients address citation and violation issues in a timely manner, we also work quickly to ensure compliance and explore customized and creative defense options that can mitigate or even eliminate fines and other setbacks. Learn more about our OSHA defense services and how we can be of assistance to you when you contact us.