The federal budget passed in 2015 included provisions that allow OSHA to increase their maximum penalty amounts, which the organization may do by up to 80% in this coming year (according to Safety & Health Magazine). Before the budget passed, OSHA fines had been limited by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act, a 1990 bill that allowed other government organizations to change their penalties based on inflation but did not permit OSHA to do so.
Other government agencies tend to have higher fines than OSHA does, but that doesn’t mean that safety and health citations won’t pose a large cost. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that maximum OSHA fines could increase from their current high of $70,000 for “Willful” and “Repeat” violations to over $127,000, and that the less-severe “Serious” violations could rise from a maximum fine of $7,000 to a $12,744 cap.
These numbers are high, but they aren’t showing the full picture of what employers will really be facing under the adjusted fine system. OSHA rarely gives out fines at the full maximum, because inspectors must take things like the company’s violation history, the number of employees, and any good faith efforts that the employer has made to correct the violation before any fines are issued. Right now, the average fines that are issued are around half of the maximum possible, and so it’s very unlikely that employers will have to face fines nearing the potential high of $127,438.
Regardless of the actual costs, any OSHA violation is going to be more costly than implementing a safety and health program that protects your workers. Waiting until you receive a hefty fine from an OSHA inspector to begin those kinds of programs is nothing less than delaying the necessary and inevitable, and doing do means putting your employees at serious risks while you avoid conforming to safety standards.