Accidents in the workplace can happen even with the best safety procedures, policies, and training in effect. They can be disabling and take years or even a lifetime from which to recover. Brad says, “It is important to remember that it’s the employer’s responsibility to create a safe workplace and ensure the safety of all of their workers.” The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is in place to help ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. “While OSHA promotes several standards to protect the worker, the problem is that they don’t have the manpower to enforce those regulations unless something really bad happens. In that instance, they will investigate the workplace,” Brad says.
There are four groups of OSHA standards: General Industry, Construction, Maritime, and Agriculture. General Industry is the set that applies to the largest number of workers and worksites. These standards are designed to protect workers from a wide range of hazards and limit the amount of hazardous chemicals, substances, or noise that workers can be exposed to; require the use of certain safe work practices and equipment; and require employers to monitor certain hazards and keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses.
Examples of OSHA standards include requirements to:
- Provide fall protection, such as a safety harness and lifeline
- Prevent trenching cave-ins
- Ensure the safety of workers who enter confined spaces such as manholes or grain bins
- Prevent exposure to high levels of noise that can damage hearing
- Put guards on machines
- Prevent exposure to harmful levels of substances like asbestos and lead
- Provide workers with respirators and other needed safety equipment
- Provide healthcare workers with needles and sharp instruments that have built-in safety features to prevent skin punctures or cuts that could cause exposure to infectious diseases
- Train workers using a language and vocabulary they understand about hazards and how to protect themselves
Some OSHA violations do not put employees at risk. Instead of issuing a fine, the agency gives the company a citation. Similar in function to a warning traffic ticket, a citation lets the business know there is a violation to resolve. It will also include a date when the safety issue needs to be resolved. Only repeat citations are listed on a company’s safety record. It’s classified as a repeat offense when a business receives the same citation more than once in three years.
Gravity-based OSHA Penalties (GBP) fall under the category of serious violation and are further classified into three categories:
- High-gravity (serious) violation penalties are $13,653 per violation.
- Moderate-gravity (semi-serious) violation penalties range from $7,802 – $11,703.
- A low-gravity (less serious) violation penalty is $5,851 per penalty.
Considered the most serious violation in the OSHA category, willful violations are intentional offenses whereby the employers are aware that they are non-compliant but refuse to make changes. These demonstrate the employers’ severe disregard for their employees’ safety and health and carry hefty penalties ranging from a minimum penalty of $963 to a maximum penalty of $136,532 per violation.