Expect much stiffer fines for certain safety violations next year

A new proposal by the OSHA would increase fines for safety violation fines by 82 percent. Washington State, which manages its own OSHA-approved state plan, will be required to follow suit in 2017.

The OSHA budget, included in the bipartisan budget agreement passed last November, altered a statute that since 1990 had allowed all federal agencies except OSHA to raise their fines every year based on inflation rates. Now that it has the authority to raise fines, OSHA is finalizing rulemaking and is expected to raise fines by about 82 percent, which is the amount of increase the fines would have accrued with annual inflationary adjustments since 1990.

With an 82 percent increase, the adjusted fines would break down as follows:
• for other-than-serious violations, the maximum increases from $7,000 to $12,600.
• a serious violation increases from $7,000 to $12,600.
• a willful violation increases from $70,000 to $126,000.
• a repeat violation increases from $70,000 to $126,000.

Beginning in 2017, the new, higher fines could be adjusted annually for inflation.

About half the states in the U.S. are directly overseen by OSHA. But states such as Washington, Oregon and Hawaii have OHSA-approved state plans that conform to federal OSHA standards. States with state plans will need to pass the fine-increase plan in their legislatures, which means any increase in Washington State would not take effect until 2017. It is important to note that the fine adjustments noted above are not set in stone, as Washington State has not gone through its own processes, but the state would not be allowed to deviate much from the federal plan.

AGC is protesting the increases as too much all at once. An increase is reasonable, according to AGC of Washington Chief Lobbyist Jerry VanderWood, since they have been frozen for decades. But to jump 82 with no phase-in is draconian. At any rate, contractors should be aware that there likely will be a significant increase in fines for safety violations – one more reason to ensure that safety plans are up-to-date.

AGC members who are not yet members of AGC’s Safety Team are strongly encouraged to apply for membership. Contact AGC Safety Director Mandi Kime, 206.284.0061.