OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is the federal agency responsible for workplace safety and health. OSHA creates regulations that apply to private sector businesses and nonprofit organizations throughout the United States, conducts workplace inspections, issues citations and fines to employers that violate safety and health regulations, and provides outreach to employers in the form of training and consultation.
OSHA regulations govern the activities of the employer. “Employer” means an individual, corporation, association, or partnership in a business affecting commerce that has employees. In addition to following specific OSHA regulations, employers have a general duty to provide their employees with working conditions that are free from recognized hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm.
About half of U.S. states have their own regulatory programs that govern workplace safety and health at both private businesses and public sector (state and local government) workplaces. Some adopt the federal OSHA rules, and some have stricter requirements and stronger penalties.
Protect employees and your bottom line
Protecting employees from harm has intrinsic value. It’s also a smart business move. Violations of workplace safety and health standards can lead to both civil and criminal penalties. With civil penalties that can exceed $145,000 for a single violation for willful or repeated violations, fines for noncompliance can reach into the millions of dollars—and that’s not including all the other potential costs of an injury, such as workers’ compensation claims, medical expenses, and productivity losses. Criminal penalties can result in prison time.
OSHA’s inspection strategy focuses on the most hazardous workplaces. Imminent danger situations receive top priority, followed by severe injuries and illnesses, worker complaints, referrals from other agencies or organizations, targeted inspections of high-hazard industries or workplaces, and follow-up inspections to verify that employers have remedied hazards uncovered during earlier inspections.
Fines for violations OSHA classifies as serious can exceed $15,500, and fines for violations classified as willful or repeat can exceed $155,000.
The penalty regulations (29 CFR 1903.15) direct OSHA to assess civil penalties on the basis of:
- The gravity of the alleged violation
- The size of the business
- The employer’s good faith in attempting to comply
- The employer’s history of prior violations
In addition to civil penalties, the following may result in criminal penalties:
- Willful violations causing death
- Giving unauthorized, advance notice of an inspection
- Giving false information
- Killing, assaulting, or hampering the work of an OSHA inspector