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Jerome, Gibson, Stewart, Stevenson, Engle & Runbeck, P.C.
Helping Injured Workers In Arizona Since 1973

Low penalties could lead to more work accidents

Penalties and fines are important tools for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Arizona's Division of Occupational Safety and Health leverages fines against employers who have violated safety protocols, although those fines were recently lowered. Employees and federal officials alike are concerned about the impact of smaller fines, which could possibly lead to an increase in work accidents.

The federal OSHA program investigated ADOSH for what it claims is the latter's soft approach with employers. ADOSH apparently lowered penalties arbitrarily, which undermines the whole notion of penalties, which is to deter employers from willingly allowing safety violations. According to OSHA, this is not permitted per current policies.

Proponents of these reductions disagreed with OSHA's findings. An update from approximately 15 years ago allows the Industrial Commission of Arizona -- the ICA -- to either increase or decrease penalties as it sees fit. However it is still unclear if this is totally permissible, as ADOSH must maintain the same level of effectiveness as the federal OSHA program; otherwise, federal officials can take over. This is not the first time ADOSH has been faced with this possibility, as a 2012 decision to relax fall protections for construction workers almost prompted a 2015 federal takeover.

Protecting employees from serious work accidents should be a priority for every employer. Sadly, many employers do not take the safety of their own workers seriously, and flippant attitudes can be fueled by flippant legislation regarding penalties. Workers' compensation benefits are usually the best option for workers who have been hurt on the job, which can cover costly medical bills and lost wages, and are not tied to how much an employer must pay in penalties for safety violations.

Source: tucson.com, "Union workers confront Arizona Industrial Commission over penalty reductions", Emily Bregel, Sept. 24, 2017

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