Federal penalties for workplace-safety violations were ordered increased this month for the first time since 1990. Buried in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, signed by President Obama on Nov. 2, 2015, is a provision requiring OSHA to significantly increase its civil penalties. A one-time “Catch Up Adjustment” will be based on the percentage difference between the Consumer Price Index in October 2015 (to be released later this month) and October 1990 – resulting in a penalty increase of approximately 80%, according to a report from The National Law Review.
Workplace-safety experts from both industry and labor said they were caught by surprise by the new mandate, the Wall Street Journal reported, which they say will likely increase maximum fines for the most severe citations to $125,000 from $70,000 and for other serious violations to $12,500 from $7,000. The maximum allowable fines may also end up being lower than that following a rule-making process.
OSHA has tried for years to convince Congress to increase the civil penalties the agency can impose when an employer is cited for a violation. OSHA was one of only a handful of federal agencies that were specifically exempted from a 1990 bill that required federal agencies to raise their fines to keep pace with inflation.
Now it will be able to do that, as OSHA will be required to adjust penalties every year using the annual percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index.