Is OSHA trying to extort companies to accept citations as written?

[tweetmeme]Wow!  I am back from Mexico.  I got married (2nd go around) in Riviera Maya area at the Aventura Spa Palace Hotel and Resort, which I whole heartedly endorse.  They made our stay a wonderful and exciting experience. 

Of course I noticed that even with me out of the country, safety issues continued to gain a lot of media attention (just a poke of fun).  Just last week David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, went before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions  to talk about new steps that OSHA will be taking to enhance workplace safety.

As part of that effort, OSHA will enhance its penalty policies to include:

  • History Reduction
    The time frame for considering an employer’s history of violations will go from three to five years.  However, an employer that OSHA has inspected within the previous five years and has no serious, willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations will receive a 10% reduction for history.
  • History Increase
    Employers cited by OSHA for ‘high gravity’ serious, willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations within the last five years will receive a 10% increase in their penalty, up to the statutory limit.
  • Repeat Violations
    The time period for repeated violations will increase from three to five years.
  • Area Director Conference Considerations
    Area Directors will retain the authority to determine changes in size or history reduction.  They will also be authorized to offer up to a 30% penalty reduction to employers.  They can also grant an additional 20% reduction to employers with 250 or fewer employees if they retain an outside safety consultant.
  • Expedited Informal Settlement Agreements
    Area offices may offer up to a 30% reduction, but may grant an additional 20% to those employers who hire an outside consultant.
  • Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) Violations
    High gravity serious violations no longer have to be combined, but no can be cited separately.
  • Gravity-Based Penalty (GBP)
    Gravity-based penalties will range between $3000 and $7000 depending on severity.
  • Good Faith
    Those procedures will be retained and penalty reductions are permitted for employers who are recognized as making an effort toward improving their safety and health management systems.
  • Increased Minimum Penalties
    The minimum for a serious violation will increase to $500.

I have some real issues with some of these efforts.  Greater penalty reductions for companies that don’t retain expert assistance?  That’s akin to asking a defendant not to hire an attorney in exchange for a promise by the prosecutor not to seek a life sentence.  Is OSHA trying to extort companies to simply lay down for and accept the citations as written?  This doesn’t seem like a good thing at all! 

OSHA says these changes will increase the overall dollar amount of all penalties in an effort to provide a greater incentive for employers to create safe and healthy work environments for their employees.  Michaels also said, OSHA’s first step is outreach to educate employers on the coming changes.  Employers should expect the new rules to take effect in October 2010, pending reprogramming of the IMIS.


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