By Joe Dixon
Nov. 5, 2015
Increased fines from the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration for workplace-safety violations have some business owners concerned and proponents applauding the new regulations.
The hike in penalties — the first of its kind since 1990 — escalates fines to reflect the present inflation rate and will result in about an 80 percent increase from current levels, according to published reports. After a one-time “catch-up adjustment,” the fines will continue to keep pace with the rate of inflation.
The fines are meant to curb the number of workplace injuries, said David Michaels, assistant secretary for OSHA. During congressional testimony in October, Michaels cited workplace-safety accidentssuch as Sarah Jones — a 27-year-old camera assistant who died after being struck by a train on the set of the film “Midnight Rider” in 2014 — as an example of how harsher OSHA penalties could help eliminate one of the 4 million workplace injuries and fatalities reported this past year. According to his testimony about Jones, “the company had been denied authorization to film on live railroad tracks, but decided to do so anyway.”
Supporters also point out that OSHA fines are inconsequential to business compared to other regulatory agencies. But not everyone is convinced.
Some believe increased penalties will be unfair to small businesses and burdensome to employers and could harm unsteady markets. “OSHA’s current penalty system is punitive enough,” said Jon Hyman, a Workforce columnist and blogger and a partner in the labor & employment practice at Cleveland-based law firm Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis. “The new higher penalties will not add any extra deterrence to workplace safety violations.”
The increase will take effect Aug. 1, 2016, and the exact percentage increase will not be known until the most recent consumer price index numbers are released on Nov. 17.
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