Despite keeping the maximum penalties to be assessed for safety and health violations stagnant for more than 25 years, OSHA has again raised the maximum fines for violations for the second time in five months. In August 2016, OSHA implemented a one-time catch-up adjustment for civil penalties pursuant to the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015. As a result, for the first time since 1990, the maximum fines assessed for citations increased from $7,000 and $70,000 for Serious and Repeat/Willful violations, to $12,471 and $124,709, respectively. But OSHA was not ready to stop there.
The 2015 Act indexed OSHA penalties to inflation, with the exact inflationary adjustment to be published in the Federal Register each year by Jan. 15. OSHA’s final rule for 2017 went into effect on Jan. 13. As of Jan. 13, the maximum fines for OSHA violations in 2017 were set as follows:
- Other than Serious: $12,675
- Serious: $12,675
- Failure to Abate: $12,675 per day beyond abatement date
- Repeat: $126,749
- Willful: $126,749
That means for all violations in which the penalty is assessed after Jan. 13, 2017, employers will be subject to the 2017 maximum-level fines. In addition, because the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act provided for an inflation adjustment “annually,” employers can expect a similar increase this time next year. Thus, barring wholesale changes from the new administration in Washington, the financial risks for employer noncompliance with OSHA regulations will be higher than ever before in 2017–and those financial risks promise only to keep going up in the future.