Charged with maintaining a safe workplace for employees and employers alike, OSHA achieves this by conducting inspections and issuing citations when hazards or unsafe practices are found. These inspections are often unannounced, and can result from an accident taking place, worker complaints, or just luck of the draw. Despite the best efforts of many in maintaining OSHA compliance, the fact is citations happen and it’s best to be informed about the different types of OSHA violations and their ramifications. Overall, there are six distinct types of OSHA violations:
- De Minimus
- Failure to Abate
These vary in severity from minor infractions with no fine to serious violations that carry large penalties and potentially criminal charges. You can learn more about OSHA enforcement on their website here. Below we detail each type of OSHA violation, what constitutes each type, and the fines associated with each.
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De Minimus Violation
A De Minimus violation is the least severe type of OSHA violation issued. De Minimus violations carry no monetary penalty. These types of violations may be issued if OSHA recognizes that a violation, while non-compliant, poses no actual risk of harm or injury to the employee. The Fifth Circuit Court has determined that a De Minimus classification, by law, is required when: No, or only minor, injury could result. The possibility of becoming injured as a result of the violation is remote. There is no significant difference in the level of protection provided by the employer and that afforded by technical compliance with the standard.
An inspector may issue a De Minimus violation if the text size of exit signs are smaller than those defined in the Standard, for example. For this type of violation, a citation is not issued. Instead, the issue is discussed verbally between the inspector and the company in violation, and a note is made in the inspection file.
Other-Than-Serious Violations can carry a fine of up to $12,471, effective August 1, 2016. A bill passed last year increased this limit from the previous $7,000 maximum. According to the OSHA Field Inspection Reference Manual, this type of violation is issued “in situations where the most serious injury or illness that would be likely to result from a hazardous condition cannot reasonably be predicted to cause death or serious physical harm to exposed employees but does have a direct and immediate relationship to their safety and health.“
Improper storage of chemicals or hazardous materials, or being unable to provide proper record keeping paperwork, are several examples of possible other-than-serious violations. The actual citation amount for this type of violation can vary widely on the nature of the hazard, good faith efforts by the employer, history of violations, and size of the business. Other-Than-Serious hazards can sometimes carry no monetary penalty at all.
Serious violations are issued in situations where there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could occur, and the employer knew, or should have known, about the presence of the hazard. It’s important to note that no actual accident needs to have occurred (or even be likely) for a hazard to be cited. The possibility alone is enough to warrant a Serious violation if the inspector deems that the potential injuries that could occur would be severe or fatal. Serious violations carry a maximum $12,471 fine as of August 1, 2016. Like Other-Than-Serious violations, Serious violation penalties can be adjusted downwards based on history of past violations, employer’s good faith, the gravity of the violation, and size of the business. Improper respirators when working among airborne contaminants is one example of a serious violation.
Willful violations are the most severe type of citation issued by OSHA, and carry the highest penalties. In certain cases, Willful violations can also come with criminal sanctions in certain cases. What separates a Willful from a Serious violation? In essence, Willful violations are reserved for cases where an employer intentionally violates OSHA rules or blatantly and deliberately disregards worker safety.
The maximum penalty for Willful violations is approx. $125,000, ten times the maximum amount for Serious violations. These too can be adjusted downward, depending on the history of violations among the company and the size of the business. In general, good faith efforts don’t apply in reducing penalties, since by definition of “Willful” the employer was acting recklessly at the very best. These maximum penalties can be increased if a fatality is involved. In Section 17(e) of the OSH Act:“Any employer who willfully violates any standard, rule, or order promulgated pursuant to Section 6 of this Act, or of any regulations proscribed pursuant to this Act, and that violation caused death to any employee, shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or by both.
The monetary fines can actually be much higher than $10,000 due to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which standardized penalties for federal offenses. Accordingly, individuals can face up to $250,000 fine, while institutions face a potential $500,000 fine. While the number of criminal charges leveraged by OSHA have been rising in recent years, criminal sanctions for violations are rare. In the 40+ years since the OSH Act was passed in 1970 less than eighty criminal cases have been prosecuted, and only roughly a dozen have resulted in criminal convictions.
Repeat violations are exactly what they sound like. OSHA commonly performs follow-up inspections after citations have been issued against an employer, and Repeat violations are issued when the same, or similar, violation(s) are present upon follow-up. Like Willful violations, Repeat violations carry a maximum penalty of $125,000. An employer cannot be cited for a Repeat violation if the first violation is being contested and a final ruling has not yet been issued by OSHA.
Failure To Abate
When an employer receives a citation violation, the citation includes a date by which it must be remedied. This is known as the “abatement date.” Failure to Abate violations occur when an employer fails to remedy a cited violation by this deadline, and can carry a fine of up to $12,000 per day beyond the abatement date.
Staying Compliant with Mobile Inspection
When it comes to OSHA citations, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Safety is not a one-off directive, it’s a habit. Established protocols and regular safety inspections can help you to identify hazardous situations early and prevent incidents before they happen. Mobile Inspection lets you stay on top of inspections with automated scheduling and reporting, as well as a built-in corrective action rules engine that ensures that safety violations are remedied and not ignored. OSHA compliance can be daunting, but we’re here to help!