So, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspector paid you a visit, and he found some problems. After receiving a few citations, not only are you left with the tarnished OSHA record, but you face expensive fines, and you must evaluate your business processes to prevent future charges.
But fear not—there are plenty of effective strategies for reducing OSHA fines and even for getting them dropped. If this is your first citation, you’re in a good position to dispute the charges. This article will arm you with the information needed to obtain the best outcome for your business.
1. If You Have a Clean Safety Record, Use It
A clean OSHA record is a principal reason why fines are reduced. Usually, if a company has no repeat fines or citations in the last five years, the penalties will be dropped 10 percent. Unfortunately, if a business has serious, willful or failure-to-abate citations in the past, getting a reduced penalty might be difficult.
2. See If Your Business Qualifies for Size Reduction
The cost of many OSHA fines directly correlates to the number of employees. If a business has 250 workers or fewer, penalties can be reduced by as much as 40 percent.
3. Provide Evidence of Limited Exposure
If a business can prove that no workers were exposed to the danger, the citation will be revoked. This is one of the main reasons why companies can get away scot-free with OSHA infractions.
4. Showings of Good Faith
OSHA likes to see changes to a company’s processes that will prevent the identified hazard from affecting workers in the future. For example, if a business implements a new health or safety program, penalties can be reduced by 15 percent. This is a stipulation of the “Quick-Fix” program, and to qualify, companies not only must fix the cited hazard, but unnoticed dangers must also be fixed before a follow-up inspection.
Here are a few qualifications of “good faith:”
• Safety program has been created or updated
• Safety guidelines have been established
• Annual training programs have been designed and practiced
• Maintenance records are up-to-date and accurate
• Supervisor follow-ups are regularly practiced to make sure inspections are conducted
• Disciplinary records are up-to-date and available for OSHA inspections
Unfortunately, operational and safety upgrades are expensive. Sometimes, they’re more expensive than the OSHA fine.
It’s always smart to do your research and weigh your options, but many companies decide that the more logical route is challenging the citation rather than trying to satisfy OSHA.
OSHA regulations have gotten stricter in recent years. Some new, influential policies include:
• If a company is cited for an OSHA infraction and in the prior five years was cited for a serious, repeat, willful or failure-to-abate offense, a “history increase” can apply to the fines. This means a 10 percent jump in payments owed.
• In an effort to crack-down on serious, repeat violators, OSHA area directors now have the choice of grouping fines or charging individual penalties. For example, if the safety features of five machines do not meet OSHA standards, the area director can choose whether to charge one or five fines. Generally, that decision is based on the company’s OSHA record.
Individual citations can cost up to $7,000. Fines like this are reserved for those hazards that have a high potential for causing injury.
It’s always a good idea to meet OSHA standards and assess the workplace regularly to avoid fines, but remember: There are a lot of effective ways to deal with an OSHA fine rather than paying it all upfront. Find out if you qualify for penalty reductions, and do what you can to demonstrate safety improvement within the workplace.