In April, the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration announced establishment of a Severe Violator Enforcement Program intended to place additional scrutiny and civil penalties on employers determined to have repeatedly exposed employees to unreasonable risk of death or injury in the workplace. The program targets what OSHA characterizes as "recalcitrant" employers. It will include intense examinations of these employers' safety practices. If systemic problems are identified, the employer will be subject to a special mandatory inspection program.
In addition, civil penalties assessed against these employers will be increased closer to the maximum levels currently available under law. This new program reflects the Obama Administration's conclusion that only the threat of intensive inspections and large monetary penalties will focus some employers' attention on safety compliance. OSHA is actively supporting pending legislation that would increase the maximum penalties for serious and willful OSHA violations from $7000 and $70,000 to $12,000 and $250,000 respectively.
The Severe Violator Enforcement Program should be in place by early June. Employers should recognize this significant change in enforcement and penalty assessment approach by OSHA. The agency is singling out employers for large fines, and is less willing to negotiate compromises than has been the case in the past. Even for employers with good overall safety records and practices, OSHA inspections will be more intensive, and fines will be significantly higher than they may have been used to.