Rely on Occupational Safety & Health ReporterSM for full news coverage and documentation of federal and state workplace safety and health programs, standards, legislation,...
Several years of pressure from federal OSHA to get states to increase their worker safety fines have met with little success. And the disparity between federal and state penalties isn’t likely to change soon.
Of the 22 states enforcing their own workplace safety rules for private employers, only four have average fines that satisfy the federal goal, according to a Bloomberg BNA analysis of recently released data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In fiscal 2016, the average federal OSHA fine for a serious violation was $2,279. The unweighted state average for the same year was $1,670, about $600 below the federal average.
That means an employer under federal OSHA jurisdiction in Ohio, typically would face a proposed serious violation penalty of $2,279 while a builder in neighboring Michigan would be fined $774, or in Indiana penalized $1,074.
Kevin Beauregard, vice chairman of the Occupational Safety and Health State Plan Association, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 8 that states continue to believe their effectiveness is best measured by the impact on worker safety and health, not by the size of fines.
The states meeting federal OSHA’s goal of an average fine within at least 25 percent of the federal level were California ($7,294), Kentucky ($3,300), Wyoming ($2,665), and Washington ($2,154).
The state with the lowest average fine was Maryland at $657.
Starting in 2010, President Barack Obama’s appointed OSHA administrator, David Michaels pressed states to boost fines. In OSHA’s opinion, having equivalent fines was part of the mandate that state plans be “at least as effective as” federal efforts.
Michaels, now a professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 9 he continues to believe many state penalties are too low to be effective deterrents.
“The penalties currently issued by many state plans are so tiny that they are clearly ineffective,” Michaels said. “The result is more workers are hurt, and responsible employers who invest in safety are at a financial disadvantage competing with low-road employers who know that if a state OSHA inspects, the fine will be painless.”
The disparity between federal and state fines may grow wider.
In August 2016, federal OSHA raised its maximum fine levels by 78 percent, raising the cap on serious fines from $7,000 to $12,471. An inflation adjustment in January boosted the maximum to $12,675.Federal OSHA officials have continually said states are expected to raise their maximums to match the federal limits in order for state efforts to meet the requirement that they be at least as effective as the federal program.
However, many states have been slow to match the 2016 increase.
Beauregard, deputy commissioner for North Carolina’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said some states are waiting to see if the Trump administration intends to continue the Obama administration policy of expecting states to raise their maximum fines before asking their states’ lawmakers to increase penalties.
OSHA, which is without a President Donald Trump-appointed administrator, declined Bloomberg BNA’s requests for comment. However, in the agency’s analyses of each state program that were completed in June, the reports repeatedly say, “State Plans are required to adopt both the catch-up increase and annual increase.”
In states moving forward to raise rates, it’s taking months and years, legislative records show.
California, the largest state plan; Iowa; and Oregon are among states whose legislatures and governors approved new penalty structures. The Iowa change takes effect Nov. 1, and Oregon’s state plan is aiming for a Jan. 1, 2018 implementation date. A date hasn’t been set for when California’s change will be enacted.
A bill in Alaska raising maximum fines to match the federal levels passed the state House of Representatives in April. Final approval of the bill must wait until 2018 when the state Senate reconvenes.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at firstname.lastname@example.org
Information on state plans is available at https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/index.html.
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)