OSHA and VOSH Seeking Stronger Penalties

October 12, 2010, 9:57 AM

Legislative and administrative changes are on the way at OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) and by federal-state obligation, at our Virginia equivalent VOSH (Virginia State Occupational Safety and Health). Virginia enforces federal occupational and health standards (OSH) under an agreement with OSHA, and federal standards have long applied in the Commonwealth of Virginia. An Obama administration priority has emerged in both the rigor of OSH enforcement and amount of penalties.

OSHA will spend $25 this year on enforcement for each $1 of voluntary compliance and training programs for employers. Such programs are disliked by organized labor which prefers strong inspection policy and resulting penalties. Many new inspectors are being hired and thousands more inspections are planned for this year and next. In Congress, H.R. 2067 proposes numerous increases in statutory penalty limits, including increasing the maximum for "serious" violations from $7,000 to $12,000 and for "willful" and "repeat" violations from $70,000 to $120,000. Violations related to fatalities at companies with more than 25 employees will result in a penalty range of $50,000 to $250,000, if willful, and $20,000 to $50,000, if not. Numerous other administrative changes are planned even if HR 2067 is defeated, all of which will increase employee rights and employer penalties.

Employers, particularly those in manufacturing, distribution and other industries employing blue collar workers, need to react now. Among those actions most helpful will be the preparation of a comprehensive Safety and Health Plan. Such plans will soon be required for any good faith reductions following an OSH inspection resulting in a Citation. Regular, documented training, along with workplace self-inspections and good recordkeeping, are also essential.--Robert J. Barry