Putting a Dent in OSHA Fines

Using a third party to avoid costly fines 

Inviting consumers to shop in brick and mortar stores brings with it a responsibility to maintain customer safety. As much as stores want to, and try to, follow the rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), they sometimes fall short due to understaffing, limited resources, unskilled labor, neglect, or ignorance. 

It is easy to agree that none of these excuses are acceptable for putting public safety at risk. But violations do happen and when OSHA issues penalties for infraction of the rules, companies are left to pay the price, whatever the reason...and that cost will rise every year. Not only is there a direct financial loss that can come from OSHA violations, but also extensive brand damage. 

OSHA fines increase to reflect inflation 

Recent legislation allows federal agencies, such as OSHA, to account for inflation when setting penalty fees. The new law took effect in 2016, and the ensuing OSHA penalty amounts are significantly higher than previous fines. The new fine structure represents a 78.2% increase in dollar amounts to reflect inflation since 1990, the last time OSHA increased its maximum fines. 

Sharon Block, deputy assistant secretary for policy in the U.S. Department of Labor, believes that the increase in OSHA penalties will "strengthen their deterrent effect." 

Here are some examples of the new fines:

  • $12,741 for serious and other-than-serious violations, up from $7,000
  • $124,709 for repeat or willful violations, up from $70,000
  • $12,741 per day for failure-to-abate, up from $7,000 

OSHA- friend or foe? 

Critics of OSHA claim it over-fines companies for "frivolous" violations or, on the other end of the spectrum, critics say that large fines for serious noncompliance are putting companies out of work. However, most employers understand that OSHA's goal is to protect companies, employees, and the public. A 2015 survey by Safety News Alert shows that 63% of respondents said OSHA fines were just about right, 25% said they were too low, and 11% said the fines were too high. 

Four factors determine OSHA's safety violation fine: 

  1. The gravity of the violation: high gravity, moderate gravity, low gravity 
  2. The size of the company (based on all its workplaces across the country) 
  3. The company's good faith effort to comply with OSHA's findings 
  4. The company's history of violations (this can increase or decrease the amount of the fine) 

Factors that may lessen a safety compliance penalty 

The emphasis on safety in the culture of a business can help avoid fines. Here are some things a company can do to potentially lessen a noncompliance penalty: 

  1. Have a formal safety policy for the company. 
  2. Make sure all safety policies are in multiple languages. 
  3. Be sure the safety management system is clearly understood by all employees, even those who speak little or no English. 
  4. Have a plan to fix any safety problems immediately. OSHA can reduce penalties by 15% if the problem is fixed immediately. Quick Fix reductions aren't applicable if there is a fatality or serious injury or when blatant violations could have been easily prevented, such as turning on a ventilation system to reduce effects of a hazardous environment or employees wearing required hard hats. 
  5. Have a plan to eliminate repeat violations as citations for the same noncompliance offense will increase the amount of the next fine. 

Training employees will save time and money 
OSHA is very clear about the fines and citations for safety violations. Properly training employees in all aspects of safety can result in fewer violations and save the company time and money in the long run. Recently OSHA has fined retailers for blocked electrical panels and fire exits, failure to have readily accessible and properly maintained fire extinguishers, aisles blocked with merchandise in boxes or carts, and improper storage of materials, such as unstable boxes stacked too high. 

Availability of safety information, training, and regularly scheduled safety meetings can ensure that everyone is on board when it comes to storing products safely, handling hazardous materials, keeping exits clear, wearing back braces if applicable, safely climbing ladders, lifting or hefting merchandise properly, using emergency respirators if applicable, or making sure all equipment is operating properly. 

Don't wait for bad news; Do think about safety now 

Don't wait for customers to complain. 
Don't wait for safety violations to be reported to OSHA. 
Don't give OSHA a reason to levy fines against the company. 

Do implement a comprehensive safety compliance program. 
Do communicate concerns about safety issues to all employees. 
Do follow a rigorous schedule of store inspections by management. 
Do encourage employees to report safety violations to store management. 
Do consider using a third party to monitor stores for safety issues, if problems persist. 

The number of recent citations issued by OSHA has been "growing at an alarming rate." It may be time ramp up company safety policies and procedures and make sure they are OSHA compliant. 

Iverify, a leader in interactive audio and video, has designed a solution to assist companies with reducing OSHA violations and hefty fines. Through the use of highly skilled Protection Specialists, Iverify monitors hundreds of premises to ensure fire exits are free of debris, electrical panels maintain proper clearance, and many other frequently violated OSHA regulations. 

Visit for more information.

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