Staffing Management

OSHA’s Penalties Are on the Rise

By Jon Hyman

Nov. 5, 2015

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. On its surface, it funds the federal government through 2017 and prevents any federal shutdowns during that time. Employers that read the fine-print, however, might be in for an OSHA-related shock.

OSHA’s penalties have looked the same for the past 25 years:

  • Willful Violation = not more than $70,000 per violation, but not less than $5,000
  • Serious = up to $7,000 per violation
  • Other-Than-Serious = up to $7,000 per violation
  • De Mimimis = up to $7,000 per violation
  • Failure to Abate = up to $7,000 per violation
  • Repeat = not more than $70,000 per violation, but not less than $5,000

These penalties, however, will be on the rise under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

  • It will require OSHA  to adjust its penalties annually based on the Consumer Price Index.
  • It contains a catch-up provision, which will immediately adjust the penalties by up to 150 percent.

The question, however, is what purpose do these increased penalties serve? Will they lead to safer workplaces? Your answer to that question will depend on whether you think employers do not care if their employees are injured, or if they want to provide safe, accident-free workplaces for their employees? I tend to fall squarely in the camp of the latter. Employers do not want injured workers, and want to do everything in their abilities to provide employees safe places to work. Therefore, I do not believe these added penalties will do anything to increase workplace safety. All they will do is increase the federal coffers.

OSHA’s current penalty system (especially as it’s currently being enforced) is punitive enough. Nevertheless, if you fall on the side of “employers do not care if their employees are suffering injuries,” employers now have an added financial incentive to maintain a safe workplace.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at

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