Safety First: A Review of OSHA Violations and Penalties

Written By: Bastian Solutions

OSHA Violations and Penalties

OSHA compliance is important, not just to avoid costly penalties, but more importantly to protect your employees.

In my last blog article, What’s the True Cost of Your Corporate Safety Program, I discussed the importance of corporate safety training and some of the most popular OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) citations in 2010. These included:

  1. Scaffolding
  2. Fall protection
  3. Hazard communication standard
  4. Ladders
  5. Respiratory protection
  6. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)
  7. Electrical, wiring methods, components, and equipment
  8. Powered industrial trucks
  9. Electrical system design
  10. Machines

Now I’d like to review some of the costs that occur when workplace safety standards are not followed.  Below is a listing of OSHA violations and their associated penalties, ranging from $0 to $500,000, and in some cases, even jail time.

1. Other Than Serious Violation

A violation that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

A proposed penalty of up to $7,000 for each violation is discretionary. A penalty for an other-than-serious violation may be adjusted downward by as much as 95 percent, depending on the employer’s good faith (demonstrated efforts to comply with the Act), history of previous violations, and size of business. When the adjusted penalty amounts to less than $100, no penalty is proposed.

2. Serious Violation

A violation where there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

A mandatory penalty of up to $7,000 for each violation is proposed. A penalty for a serious violation may be adjusted downward, based on the employer’s good faith, history of previous violations, the gravity of the alleged violation, and size of business.

3. Willful Violation

A violation that the employer knowingly commits or commits with plain indifference to the law.

The employer either knows what he or she is doing constitutes a violation, or is aware a hazardous condition existed and made no reasonable effort to eliminate it.

Penalties of up to $70,000 may be proposed for each willful violation, with a minimum penalty of $5,000 for each violation. A proposed penalty for a willful violation may be adjusted downward, depending on the size of the business and its history of previous violations. Usually, no credit is given for good faith.

If an employer is convicted of a willful violation of a standard that has resulted in the death of an employee, the offense is punishable by a court-imposed fine or by imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A fine of up to $250,000 for an individual, or $500,000 for a corporation, may be imposed for a criminal conviction.

4. Repeated Violation

A violation of any standard, regulation, rule, or order where, upon reinspection, a substantially similar violation can bring a fine of up to $70,000 for each such violation.

To be the basis of a repeated citation, the original citation must be final; a citation under contest may not serve as the basis for a subsequent repeated citation.

5. Failure to Abate Prior Violation

Failure to abate a prior violation may bring a civil penalty of up to $7,000 for each day the violation continues beyond the prescribed abatement date.

6. De Minimis Violation

De minimis violations are violations of standards which have no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health.

Whenever de minimis conditions are found during an inspection, they are documented in the same way as any other violation, but are not included on the citation.

OSHA compliance is very important, not just for avoiding costly penalties, but more importantly for preventing injuries and death within the workplace. As the year comes to an end, it’s a great time to perform an honest review of your company’s safety program and set goals for improvement in the coming year.

Keep in mind the minimal costs of proactively addressing safety versus the true costs potentially levied against your company for non-compliance with OSHA regulations, and more importantly, weigh the minimal costs of safety training and use of proper safety equipment as compared to the costs your employees and their families will encounter from injury or loss of life. I think you will find the true long-term costs of compliance to be significantly lower than you first assumed.

What does your company do to promote safety in the workplace?

U.S. Department of Labor. “OSH Act, OSHA Standards, Inspections, Citations and Penalties.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Home. May 1996. Web. 21 Oct. 2011. <>.

Bastian Solutions is an independent system integrator dedicated to helping our customers increase their productivity through proven automation, information systems, and sound operating procedures.

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