The civil monetary penalties that OSHA is allowed to impose have long since been viewed as too lenient since they are not high enough to deter habitual violators. That may change given a scheduled increase in these penalties.
According to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, federal agencies that impose such penalties are required to update their fine schedules and increase them incrementally as the rate of inflation goes up. With that, OSHA will comply with the law and incorporate its first increase in civil penalties since 1990.
Essentially, the top penalty for serious violations will increase from $7,000 to $12,471. Similarly, the highest penalty for repeat violations will increase from $70,000 to $124,471. The overall increase is 78 percent.
Regulators have long complained that the previous penalties may only deter small contractors, and that large companies will not be fazed by paying them. It remains to be seen whether the new penalties will have any effect, but it is arguably a step in the right direction.
This certainly does not mean that large contractors can simply smirk at OSHA penalties. Violations of the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue seven figure penalties. But the overarching goal is to ensure that all contractors, regardless of size have and incorporate safety plans and comply with federal regulations.
In the event they don’t, and employees are injured, they can be held accountable and monetary penalties are still the best way to ensure compliance.