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OSHA official testifies on current state of enforcement and assistance

In his Feb. 11 testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jordan Barab described OSHA's detailed inspection and citation process. Barab told the Subcommittee that OSHA inspectors don’t issue citations and penalties themselves. They issue an inspection report to their OSHA Area Director who decides on violations and fines.  Barab stressed that OSHA enforcement is an important tool to deter employers from overlooking their responsibility to provide a safe workplace. He noted that OSHA generally reduces penalties for small employers, as well as for employers who are shown to be acting in good faith or have a history of no OSHA citations over the previous five years.

Barab also discussed the extensive amount of compliance assistance that OSHA provides to help employers meet their legal requirements. These include assistance through the agency's website and publications, webinars, training programs, and free and confidential on-site consultations for small- and medium-size employers.

In FY 2015, federal OSHA issued 63,575 violations, with the vast majority (74%) categorized as serious. A serious violation is one that can cause either serious injury or death. They currently carry a maximum $7,000 fine. Maximums for repeat and willful violations is currently $70,000. (These amounts may go up later in 2016.)

Fines may be issued below the maximum amount based on company size, good faith safety efforts and a lack of other OSHA fines in the previous five years. Most small companies receive a substantial reduction from the maximum fine amount. The average amount for a serious violation is $2,000.

After receiving notice of the violation, a company has 15 business days to pay the fine, reach a negotiated settlement with OSHA, or contest the citations to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission where an administrative law judge will hear the case.

In FY 2015, 65% of inspections with a citation resulted in informal or expedited settlements and 7.4% were appealed to OSHRC. The average penalty reduction in the settled cases was 41.3%.

Barab also discussed the extensive amount of compliance assistance that OSHA provides to help employers meet their legal requirements. These include assistance through the agency's website and publications, webinars, training programs, and free and confidential on-site consultations for small- and medium-size employers.   He stated that  OSHA’s primary avenue of assistance to businesses, the On-Site Consultation Program, is actually run separately from OSHA by the states, even though OSHA provides the funding for it. The service provides free and confidential workplace safety evaluations and advice to smaller businesses with 250 or fewer employees.

In FY 2015, the program conducted more than 27,800 visits to worksites, with 87% to businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

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