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We spend a lot of time talking about how you can stay out of trouble with OSHA. The hazards you need to avoid, compliance tasks you need to complete, and your responsibilities to your employees - all in the name of keeping your employees safe and avoiding OSHA citations.
But when OSHA issues citations and penalties, they issue them based on the nature and severity of the violation.
There are six types of OSHA violations. Keep reading for an overview of each type and what it means for your citation.
OSHA de minimis penalties are the least severe of the bunch. These penalties do not come with a monetary fine because they do not impact health and safety.
Why bother issuing them, in that case?
De minimis violations are violations of OSHA’s technical rules. In other words, you implemented a measure different than the one specified in the applicable OSHA standard.
An OSHA inspector will inform you of a de minimis violation and make note of it in your case file, but will not issue a penalty for it.
The next step up is an other-than-serious violation.
This type of violation does have a direct relationship to workplace health and safety, which means a fine is issued alongside the penalty. These threats are not an immediate safety concern, but they do reflect noncompliance with OSHA standards, such as poor recordkeeping.
The maximum penalty for other-than-serious violations is $13,494, but inspectors have a great deal of latitude. The severity of the fine often depends on the attitude of the business, the history of the business, and the severity of the violation.
Serious OSHA violations, as the name implies, are a more severe problem. Unlike the last two violations, serious violations are perceived to have a high risk of potential injury, illness, or death to workers.
In addition, a violation is classed as serious if the employer knew (or should have known) about the hazard and did nothing to address it.
The maximum penalty for serious violations is $13,494, though this can be adjusted down based on the employer’s history, gesture of good faith, the size of the business, and the gravity of the violation.
Willful violations are the most serious type of violation.
This time, you know that you’re in violation of the law. Worse, you’re doing so with the full knowledge that you’re violating the law and no intention of changing the behavior.
Because of this, the maximum penalty for a willful violation is far higher – $134,937 per violation.
If an employee is killed as a result of a willful violation, the violation becomes a criminal offense with a minimum fine of $250,000 with the possibility of jail time. No adjustments are made for gestures of good faith.
Repeated offenses are considered to be just as serious as willful violations. Not only do you know that the problem exists, but you’ve already been cited for it – and you still failed to correct it.
Because of this, the maximum fine for repeated violations is $134,937 per violation.
That said, in order to be considered a repeated violation, the original citation must be final. If an employer contests the original violation and is still waiting on a decision by the time an inspector cites them again, they cannot be cited for a repeated violation.
Last but not least are failure to abate violations. When you receive a citation for a violation, you have a date by which the issue must be resolved. If you do not resolve the issue by that date, you have committed a failure to abate violation.
Because OSHA wants employers to correct issues as soon as possible, their fines are designed to discourage employers from dragging out the correction. The maximum penalty for failure to abate violations is $13,494 per day beyond the abatement date until you remedy the problem.
In short, OSHA violations of any type can be incredibly expensive. Bad safety isn’t just poor ethics – it’s bad business.
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