OSHA Raises Fines and Increases Scrunity for Reporting Violations

On September 18, 2014, OSHA issued a final rule revising its occupational injury and illness recordkeeping and reporting requirements in 29 C.F.R. 1904.  Shortly before OSHA’s new injury and illness reporting requirements came into effect last January, OSHA issued “Interim Enforcement Procedures for New Reporting Requirements under 29 C.F.R. 1904.39.”  These interim procedures served as enforcement guidance for Area Offices and compliance officers when issuing citations to employers for failing to report injuries under the new requirements.  On March 4, 2016, the Agency issued revised enforcement procedures, “Revised Interim Enforcement Procedures for Reporting Requirements under 29 C.F.R. 1904.39” due to the “influx of workplace incident reports to OSHA and the field’s experiences with the new reporting requirements.”  The revised procedures include two significant departures from the previous guidance:

  • Maximum Fine Increased For Failing To Report A Reportable Incident Within 24 Hours Of Learning Of The Incident.Previously the maximum fine was $1,000 with an option to reduce the fine for, e.g., small businesses. The maximum fine is now set at $5,000 with the same reductions still available. This does not, however, change the Area Director’s authority to raise the unadjusted penalty as high as $7,000 if s/he “determines that it is appropriate to achieve the necessary deterrent effect.”  Under the revised enforcement procedures, the violation will still be classified as other-than-serious.
  • Monitoring Inspections. After an employer has reported a reportable event (fatality, in-patient hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye) OSHA makes a decision based on the “Category” of the incident whether to conduct an on-site inspection or a Rapid Response Investigation (RRI). If an RRI is initiated, OSHA sends a letter to the employer and the employer agrees to conduct its own internal investigation, take steps to abate any hazards, and provide a written response to OSHA. The new guidance provides for monitoring inspections of closed RRIs “based on a randomized selection of closed investigations.” Meaning that in some cases, where OSHA informs an employer an RRI is closed, there still remains the potential for an on-site inspection to confirm abatement of the hazardous condition that resulted in the reportable injury.  The Agency claims this is to ensure accuracy in the reporting and has said that the inspection “will be limited to an inspection of the previously reported condition.”  Further, OSHA has said that anything uncovered by the employer in the course of its internal investigation will not be used by the Agency to cite the employer provided “employees are not exposed to a serious hazard” and “the employer is taking diligent steps to correct the condition.”

Among other things, this memo updates the procedures for the intake of reports from employers, data collection and sorting; and entry of data in the OSHA Information System (OIS).  Revised flow charts are provided to help understand the intake process. Revisions in the memorandum include additional guidance on:

  • requesting more information from the employer when conducting an RRI;
  • a safe harbor provision for employers who conduct internal investigations during the RRI;
  • monitoring inspections of closed RRIs;
  • increased penalties for failure to report;
  • updated fill-in Appendices; and,
  • a flow chart for coding.

To read more, OSHA’s enforcement guidance may be viewed in full at http://src.bna.com/daT

Article brought to you by: Stephen A. Burt, BS, MFA