OSHA to Up the Enforcement Ante in 2016

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 1, 2016 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

In case you missed this in your news feed late last year, OSHA is making big changes as the agency steps up its campaign for preventing workplace injuries in 2016. The implementation of a number of new measures will mean an even greater impact on companies failing to live up to workplace safety standards. The following are a few of the most noteworthy measures that you can expect OSHA to take.

Penalty Increases

Back in 1990, the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act exempted OSHA from increasing its penalties and prevented the agency from increasing them for decades. In fact, penalties haven't risen in 25 years. That’s about to change. On November 2, 2015, a federal budget was signed into law allowing OSHA to increase its penalties, and to do so via a catch-up provision. This will allow OSHA to increase penalties to account for inflation since 1990, which amounts to an increase of 82 percent. Unless reduced by Congress, this rate will go into effect on August 1, 2016 – and OSHA is then allowed to increase its penalties every year from then on.

While OSHA isn't required to do any of this, it's fully expected that it will for two reasons:

  1. To adjust penalties in line with inflation like many other federal agencies have been doing for years, such as the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)

  2. To provide employers with further incentive to commit to workplace safety. Many believe that some employers find paying penalties at the current rate to be more cost-effective than implementing the safety measures required to avoid them.

Electronic Reporting

Any company that is issued citations for serious violations during routine safety inspections or workplace accident investigations will have its name, violations, and resulting penalties published in a press release, which can cause serious damage to their reputation. Taking this public shaming practice to another level is a new rule requiring companies with 250 or more employees to submit injury and illness records to OSHA electronically every quarter. This data will then be directly published to OSHA's website, which means that anyone can go look into any company's workplace safety record in detail online. Smaller companies – those with fewer than 250 employees – will now have to file their Form 300A electronically, including a summary of their annual workplace injury and illness data.

In-Depth Workplace Safety Inspections

Historically, OSHA has tended to measure its enforcement activity by the number of inspections it performed. While useful, this approach penalized field managers who took on more complex inspections, such as those involving workplace violence, chemical exposures, process safety management violations, and ergonomic hazards. A new enforcement weighting system has been implemented in order to provide more value to complex inspections, which will help OSHA focus its resources on more meaningful inspections.

What You Should Do

Considering the stricter enforcement and increased severity of penalties, there has rarely been a better time to strengthen your own commitment to preventing workplace injuries. By implementing more effective safety procedures and protocols, not only will you avoid costly penalties and damage to your reputation, but you also will help ensure the safety and well-being of your employees.

When you make Physical Abilities Testing (PAT) a regular part of your hiring process, you are on the road to doing just that. PAT ensures that your new employees are physically capable of meeting the demands of the job, limiting the risk of employee injury and its associated costs. And if, like many companies, you’re faced with the additional burden of an aging workforce, it’s equally important to make certain your PAT program includes periodic Fitness for Duty and post-injury or absence Return to Work testing. With these programs in place you can significantly reduce employee injuries and maintain a healthy and safe workplace.

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Topics: Legal Issues

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.