Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana
Want to know how to spend a whole lot of money? Violate an OSHA regulation…and then do it again. First time offenses are capped at $7,000, unless it is found to be a willful violation. However, if you repeat a violation, the penalty goes up to $70,000.
Repeat offenses are difficult for companies to overcome, because the the message they send to regulators is that the company doesn’t care enough to fix its mistakes. There is a very simple explanation of the OSHA penalty regime on the American Professional Safety Trainers Alliance website. They make the important point that the fine may be the least of your problems if you are tagged as a repeat offender, because there is also the likelihood that the media will pounce on the story, doing untold damage to the company’s reputation.
The other problem with the repeat offender fines are that they don’t really focus on the most dangerous violations. As attorney Howard Mavity very accurately points out in a recent blog on OSHA violations at stores:
- Most big dollar OSHA penalties aren’t directly related to an employee death or serious injury.
- The biggest dollar exposure comes from “Repeat” citations of up to $70,000 for each violation.
- Once an employer is cited for a violation, the next violation within FIVE YEARS at ANY company location will be a repeat. And each repeat citation during that five years drives up the penalties.
- Common sense dictates that the most likely repeat items will be “routine” safety violations because of the sheer number of opportunities to occur, such as a damaged extension cord, a briefly blocked fire extinguisher or electric cabinet, one employee not given Hazard Communication training, a power strip used instead of a permanent electric fixture, or failure to provide annual fire extinguisher training.
In other words, a company that has been tagged by OSHA is automatically under more scrutiny and the smallest violation can trigger the biggest fine allowed by law.
The message is that an OSHA violation may be willful or a simple mistake, but a repeat offense is unacceptable, any time, any place.