Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers: Is OSHA Too Lenient on Employers Who Violate Safety Laws?

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Effective August 1, 2016, employers who violate occupational safety and health laws may face much higher violation penalties from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, for years OSHA has developed a pattern of negotiating settlements in favor of the employer that either decrease the amount of the fines, or eliminate them altogether. Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers report that Congress enacted legislation in November of 2015 that requires federal agencies, including OSHA, to adjust their maximum penalties to reflect inflation. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that OSHA has been discounting fines on a systemic level, which has a direct impact on the health and safety of workers.

The Center for Progressive Reform recently released a report entitled, “OSHA’s Discount on Danger: OSHA Should Revise Its Informal Settlement Policies to Maximize the Deterrent Value of Citations.” According to a member scholar at the center, it should not take an act of Congress for OSHA to reexamine their settlement process, particularly when it comes to discounting or eliminating fines imposed on companies that violate safety laws, putting their workers’ lives in danger.

When OSHA issues a penalty to an employer for a safety violation, the company is allowed to contest the penalty. During this time, the employer is not legally responsible for fixing the violation that caused the worker to become sick or injured. What often ends up happening is that OSHA will negotiate a settlement that significantly reduces the fine if the company addresses the safety issue that came up during the inspection. According to the center’s research, OSHA’s settlement negotiations resulted in median penalties of a mere $5,800, which is less than the average cost of a funeral.

Low Fines for Even the Most Dangerous Industries

The poultry processing industry is one of the most dangerous for workers, yet employers are granted significant discounts on penalties. The co-author of the report asserts that when companies are rewarded with lower fines simply because they contest the penalty, it sends a message that employee safety is not a top priority. OSHA reduced fines for poultry processors by a median of 40 percent. This means that, in 2015, companies paid a median amount of $4,475 for failing to install machine guards, providing the appropriate safety equipment, and addressing ergonomic issues, among other things.

How OSHA Can Do a Better Job of Holding Employers Accountable

 Authors of the center’s report suggested that OSHA do the following in order to prevent worker injuries and fatalities and hold employers accountable for providing a safe and healthy work environment:

  • Create nationwide guidelines that discourage companies from trying to settle cases involving safety violations. OSHA should hold companies responsible when they ignore basic safety guidelines that put their workers in danger. This behavior should not be tolerated, and certainly not rewarded.
  • When negotiating a settlement, OSHA should demand that employers institute things like formal injury and illness prevention plans, comprehensive third-party audits of existing practices, and company-wide repairs of hazardous equipment. This can help prevent workplace accidents as opposed to dealing with penalties and fines after they happen.
  • Engage workers in the settlement process. OSHA can do more to help enforce health and safety standards if employees and representatives take an active role in the process. With more feedback from workers and employers, OSHA can learn new ways to engage and protect workers.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Represent All Injured Workers

 Employers have a responsibility to maintain a safe work environment for their workers. If you have been injured at work in Maryland, or became sick because your employer violated health or safety laws, you are encouraged to contact our Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We are on your side and will fight for the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries or illness. For a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.