In recent months, EmployNews has reported on the dramatic increase in penalties assessed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in situations where the agency believes that employers are not taking previous citations seriously. This strategy was clearly illustrated last week when OSHA hit the Dollar General retail chain with over $2.7 million in penalties only a few weeks after assessing a $1.6 million penalty against the same employer.
In its press release announcing the fines, OSHA claims that the new penalties resulted from seven inspections of Dollar General stores in the Southeast, which resulted in 31 citation items. Of these items, 11 were classified as willful, and 16 as repeat. OSHA says that since 2017, Dollar General has received $12.3 million in initial penalties. The items cited are relatively common in the retail industry, including alleged electrical hazards and failure to follow OSHA rules regarding fire hazards and exits.
The scrutiny imposed on Dollar General has resulted in part from its inclusion in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). This program is aimed at employers OSHA believes have not appropriately responded to previous inspections and citations. These companies are subject to increased workplace inspections and higher penalties when these inspections result in violations.
Corporate management should understand that failure to respond to OSHA citations, through either contesting the items or taking determined action to correct them, can result in increased regulatory scrutiny and financial consequences. Employers placed in the SVEP are especially vulnerable to such penalties. Employers that make modest investments in improving health and safety practices can avoid reputational and financial consequences that result from continuing OSHA scrutiny.