The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was first created by congress in 1970 and has since been the face of workplace regulations and employer responsibilities. OSHA’s purpose is to ensure safe working conditions and set standards that minimize the risk of severe injury or hazards. The agency provides programs and guidelines to help employees of all industries maintain a workplace that is safe and up to standard. Some of these guidelines, which are required by federal law under the department of labor administration, have severe penalties if a business is found to be non-compliant. Unfortunately, not all companies have their employee's best interests in mind, and this can lead to unsafe working conditions, preventable injuries, and even fatalities.
There have been instances where companies that were failing to meet OSHA guidelines got away with it, and to this day, some businesses continue to disregard health and safety laws to cut costs or engage in illegitimate business practices. However, OSHA has begun to crack down on reporting regulations, the severity of penalties, and the frequency of auditing with the intent to reduce the number of safety risks. Putting aside the obvious importance of keeping employees safe, it’s more important than ever that businesses understand the requirements set by OSHA and maintain safety regulations to avoid hefty fees and a poor reputation.
Who is Affected by OSHA Regulations?
Virtually all industries and businesses have OSHA regulations that they are required to adhere to. Certain businesses may have more complex regulations and guidance if the nature of the business comes with more risks. It is the duty of the business to understand the specific guidelines under OSHA and to know that a lack of awareness around a regulation does not constitute a fair defense against a penalty or violation. Some industries that may have more guidelines include:
- General Industry
- Marine terminals
- Energy/Power Plants
- Industrial Trucking
These industries all pose unique risks due to their environment and equipment. However, every industry and profession come with their own set of risks. Even the smallest violation could result in endangering employees, and it's important to maintain regular check ins for your business.
What are the Most Common OSHA Violations?
While each industry has its own common violations, the top 10 OSHA violations across all industries in 2021 include:
- Fall Protection - Construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
- Hazard Communication - General Industry (Toxic and Hazardous Substances) 29 CFR 1910.1200
- Respiratory Protection – General Industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
- Scaffolding- General Requirements (29 CFR 1926.451)
- Ladders - (29 CFR 1926.1053)
- Control of Hazardous Energy/ General Environmental - General Industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
- Fall Protection – Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503)
- Powered Industrial Trucks – General Industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
- Eye and Face Protection - General Industry (29 CFR 1926.102)
- Machinery and Machine Guarding – General Requirements (29 CFR 1910.212)
OSHA standards are set up to clarify which industry the requirement pertains to. As you can see from the most common violations, they are mainly general requirements that can be related to a large majority of businesses and companies. Fall protection will likely always remain among the top violations even though it is specific to construction, as it is such severe risk in this line of work. In 2018 alone, there were over 400 fatal falls. Depending on your industry, you may have other areas you need to focus your safety measures in.
How is OSHA Cracking Down?
First, they have dedicated new teams to identifying companies that failed to report workplace injuries or sickness. Under OSHA guidelines, all companies must report any workplace-related deaths, hospitalizations, or loss of an eye. OSHA recently established a new rule that companies over 250 people must also electronically report all workplace related injuries, alongside any onsite record. This will also apply to businesses between 20-249 employees if the business is a high-risk industry. According to OSHA, “Collection of these injury and illness data will improve OSHA's ability to identify establishments that experience high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses. OSHA will use the data to interact with these establishments, through both outreach and enforcement initiatives, with the goal of reducing injuries and illnesses” In addition to this, it will open more opportunities for penalties for companies who fail to accurately report workplace injuries or illness.
OSHA has also ramped up its inspection frequency and curated more teams to visit business onsite, many times without warning.
Increasing Fines on Penalties and Violations
In addition to amending its reporting tactics, OSHA has been increasing its fines and taking violations more seriously. Most recently, OSHA fined a contractor with a history of violations $1.3 million for its second fatal fall. Since 2019, OSHA had inspected the business 6 times and ultimately found that proper precautions were being deliberately ignored. While only 2 employers suffered fatalities, OSHA took the route of penalizing the company for every single employee that was exposed to a hazardous situation, which resulted in a $1.3 million fine. This is only one example of many where OSHA is unforgiving in their inspections and subsequent penalties. In Q2 of 2022, the top 8 violations combined were more than $2.5 million in fines. Each quarter there are thousands of violations, and the trend of costliness is going up. The standard violation costs were recently updated and increased to:
- Serious - $13,494 per violation
- Failure to Abate - $13,494 per day beyond the abatement date
- Willful or Repeated - $134,937 per violation
How to Avoid an OSHA violation?
Every company has the ability to avoid an OSHA penalty. This does not mean that there will never be injuries or illness in your workplace, it simply means you have taken the proper precautions to decrease the risk as much as possible, per federal guidelines.
The most important aspect of your health and safety plan is to implement procedures that align with regulations, and train all workers and staff adequately. There are plenty of resources provided by OSHA to help you not only understand your responsibilities but also how to properly form risk management steps and training. Having staff whose primary role focuses on risk management, OSHA guidelines, and minimizing health risks is a great way to ensure the focus is always there. Many OSHA guidelines have specific details that can be easily overlooked. For example, certain regulations may only pertain to specific-sized companies, or regulations within a certain industry may require special equipment. Be sure to check on your industry's requirements and don’t disregard the small details.
Once you have developed proper procedures, ensure you document any injuries or illnesses required by OSHA. If you are concerned about your procedures, reach out to an OSHA officer, or have a health and safety consultant do an audit on your business. It’s so important that you are compliant and double-check in any areas you are unsure of.
Review Your Workers Compensation Insurance with ECBM
Certain OSHA violations and penalties can be covered by your worker's compensation coverage. It can also help to cover the medical bills of your injured or sick employee if the injury is work-related. To find out more about workers' compensation coverage with respect to OSHA guidelines, speak to one of our consultants today.