The Occupational Health and Safety
Administration (OSHA) is tasked with making sure that all workers are safe, no
matter what they do. If employees are working with heavy machinery or
chemicals, or entering data into a computer, they’re covered by OSHA
regulations. The agency also provides protection for employees who come forward
to report unsafe or illegal practices.
Most business owners work hard to make sure their workplaces and working
conditions meet OSHA regulations. However, whether it’s due to inadvertent
mistakes or willful negligence, an owner may find himself out of compliance.
The consequences can be steep, depending on the rule that was broken or the
number of times he’s been cited for noncompliance.
An OSHA inspector may visit as part of a routine safety inspection, or because
the agency has been notified of unsafe working conditions. When an inspector
arrives, a company can refuse to allow his to enter, but the inspector will
then obtain a warrant to search the premises. If a business owner then attempts
to prevent entry, he’ll be subject to legal consequences in addition to any
penalties arising from violations uncovered in the inspection.
Once an inspection has been completed, a report is issued detailing any
violations uncovered and the ways in which each violation needs to be
addressed. A deadline is set for compliance as well as the consequences of not
meeting that deadline. In the vast majority of OSHA violations, fines are
levied if the violation isn’t rectified within the specified time period.
Criminal penalties are only applied when a worker has died due to willful
negligence on the part of the employer.
There are six different types of violations that directly impact employers with
increasingly severe financial penalties, ranging from a de minimis, or minimal
violation to a willful violation and repeated violations. Additionally, OSHA
fines businesses for falsifying records or refusing to allow an inspector to
properly conduct his job.
Of the six types of violations, the de minimis violation is the only one that
doesn’t directly affect the safety of workers and thus doesn’t carry a
financial penalty. Another violation is classified as other than serious,
meaning that a situation exists that isn’t presently causing physical danger or
harm but could become serious later. A serious violation has the potential to
cause harm or death to an employee but hasn’t been corrected by the employer. A
violation classified as other than serious may carry a fine as low as $100 or
as high as $7,000, depending on the business owner’s efforts to correct the violation
and the inspector’s discretion. A serious violation carries a fine of $7,000,
but the amount may be reduced depending on the employer’s attempts to fix the
problem as well as his record of previous violations.
An employer’s willful refusal to correct violations that he knows exist, or
that he just doesn’t care to correct, results in a fine of $70,000 for each
violation. If the violation caused the death of an employee, the employer can
be fined $250,000 and the business $500,000, in addition to the owner’s
Once a business has been cited for OSHA noncompliance and given a date by which
the violations should be rectified, a re-inspection will be scheduled. If OSHA
finds that a violation hasn’t yet been abated, a stiff penalty of $70,000 is
assessed. In addition, violations similar to those originally cited by the
inspector can bring a fine of $7,000 per violation per day when the business is
Providing false information to a compliance officer or filing false reports can
result in a fine of $10,000 and prison time. Failing to properly display federaland state labor law posters can cost a business $7,000. To avoid many of
these extensive penalties, a business owner should be prepared at any time to
welcome an OSHA inspector onto his premises, keep his records accurate and up
to date and make sure that he has posted necessary federal and state labor law