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Houston OSHA Law Blog

A repeat OSHA violation can result in steep fines, loss of business

Initially, a citation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) can seem like a fairly minor matter. However, employers should take OSHA violations very seriously. Corporations that do not fix a violation or that allow consecutive incidents may receive a repeat violation for OSHA safety regulations.

The fines for a repeat violation of an OSHA safety regulation can range between $5,000 and $70,000. The fine is per violation; a citation may contain several violations. OSHA considers a hazard to be a repeat violation if the employer was cited for the same or a similar violation within the past five years. 

Beyond OSHA: legal problems can snowball after workplace accidents

After a workplace accident, an employer or jobsite may be inspected by an officer from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Most employers wait until OSHA issues a citation for one or more violations, prepare to pay the fine and hope to return to business as usual.

Waiting is exactly what a veteran OSHA attorney will tell you that an employer should not do. When it comes to the financial and legal impact of a workplace accident, an OSHA citation is merely the tip of the iceberg. 

What is the Severe Violator Enforcement Program?

In 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), introduced the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The program, shortened to SVEP, is aimed at what OSHA terms "recalcitrant employers" who show they are indifferent to worker safety by receiving citations for violations that are considered willful, repeated or failure-to-abate significant hazards.

SVEP replaced a program whose effectiveness and efficiency had been criticized by government auditors. The program was created to focus on increased inspections of employers who meet the criteria for the program. According to OSHA, an employer may be placed in the program for one of the following reasons:

OSHA's five-step abatement process

For an employer who has been cited for an OSHA violation, the cost and process of fixing the hazards that OSHA identified can be more challenging than handling the fine and other issues associated with the citation itself. OSHA requires employers to abate hazards and has identified a five-step process for correcting and showing the hazards have been corrected.

The steps include:

  • Fix the hazard. OSHA requires hazards to be corrected quickly. If a hazard will take more than 90 days to correct, you may be required to have an abatement plan.
  • Certify in a letter that you have corrected the hazard. The letter must include information about the inspection and citation numbers of each violation, a statement of how and on what date the hazard was abated, and other information.
  • Provide documents that verify the abatement has been completed.
  • Notify employees who were exposed to the hazard. The notification should contain the same information that OSHA received.
  • Tag movable equipment that has been cited to warn employees of the hazard.

What employers are covered by OSHA?

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) covers most – but not all –employers and employees in the United States. The federal safety agency, which also works with states that have their own health and safety programs, regulates safety for nearly 8 million worksites and 130 million workers.

OSHA may be involved with health and safety regulation of these types of employers:

  • Private sector: Workers and employers are covered in every state, including Texas. OSHA may cover a private employer either directly through the federal OSHA program or through a state program approved by OSHA.
  • State and local government: These workers are not covered by the federal OSHA program, but they may have OSHA protections if they work in a state with a program approved by OSHA.
  • Federal government: Federal government workers are required to have a safety program that meets the same standards as private employers OSHA monitors federal agencies but does not fine them for violations.

How OSHA prioritizes the worksites it inspects

If you are an employer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may inspect your worksites at any time for potential safety violations. In many cases, however, inspections will fall into one of several types. The reason: OSHA enforces safety regulations at more than seven million workplaces around the nation. Because of the size of the operation, OSHA must prioritize which worksites it inspects.

The agency says it focuses on these six reasons for an inspection. They are listed in order of importance.

Ten most common OSHA citations

Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and related state agencies issued nearly 90,000 citations for alleged violations of safety regulations. The regulations cover nearly all types of employers - from hair salons to hospitals to construction sites - and a wide range of potential hazards defined in safety regulations. 

Despite the variety, some types of violations are more frequently found than others. OSHA releases a list of the 10 most common OSHA citations issued each year. For fiscal year 2013, they are:

An OSHA Inspector Has Come to My Workplace

Do you know what to do if an OSHA inspector comes to your work site? Inspectors from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may appear for a safety inspection at your worksite at any time and for any reason. These inspections may result in citations that can carry monetary penalties and requirements for potentially expensive abatements. Because of the potential for severe consequences, it is worth the time and effort for employers to prepare for OSHA inspections, understand the process associated with an OSHA inspection and develop a plan of action for when an inspection occurs.

If you have properly prepared for an OSHA inspection, your employees should know how to handle each stage of an OSHA inspection. In this blog, we provide some tips for handling OSHA inspections. These tips are not comprehensive. Your business or worksite may have needs that can best be addressed with an individual plan.

What constitutes 'effective' workplace safety training programs?

From an employer's perspective, it probably seems reasonable to provide safety training to employees as they are hired or as safety needs change. After all, maintaining a safe work environment can help operations run more smoothly, which is beneficial for the health of employees and the business.

However, well-intentioned employers may run into issues if their training programs do not meet the standards established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Given the sprawling nature of federal mandates, it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly how a training regimen can be effective and meet all necessary requirements. An employer's training program is not simply a plan that is "implemented" and then put on a shelf to collect dust. A training program must be dynamic and evolve with the ever-changing regulatory climate. 

Defining OSHA's standards for a 'willful' work safety violation

Over the course of this blog, we have spent time discussing ways that employers can defend against workplace safety violations or take steps to prevent citations. In the midst of all this, it may be beneficial for employers to understand exactly what is meant by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's most severe penalty: a willful violation.

As a point of reference, OSHA defines four most common types of citations for safety violations that can be issued after a safety inspection. They range from other-than-serious violations and increase in severity to willful violations. Of course, the harshest penalties generally accompany willful violations.

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