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OSHA increases penalties, launches Severe Violators enforcement Program (SVEP)
A yearlong OSHA study found current assessed penalties “are too low to have an adequate deterrent effect” and OSHA has responded by announcing increased penalties and a severe violators program. Under the new policy, the average penalty for a serious violation will increase from about $1,000 to an average of $3,000 to $4,000.  The current maximum penalty for a serious violation, one capable of causing death or serious physical harm, is $7,000 and the maximum penalty for a willful violation is $70,000. These will change to $12,000 and $250,000, respectively.  Future penalty increases will be tied to inflation.

Other changes to the penalty calculation system include: expanding the time frame for considering an employer’s history of violations from three years to five years; increasing penalties by 10% for employers who have been cited for any high-gravity, serious, willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations within the previous five years; increasing the minimum penalty for a serious violation to $500; and limiting the ability of an OSHA area director to reduce fines to 30%.

The violator enforcement program , which goes into effect this month targets "recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law.” This supplemental enforcement tool includes increased OSHA inspections in these worksites, including mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections, and inspections of other worksites of the same employer where similar hazards and deficiencies may be present.

Letters of interpretation
OSHA recently released several letters of interpretation covering topics such as fall protection exemptions, permissible methods of operating trucks in reverse on construction sites, space between scaffold planks or between scaffold planks and uprights, distance required between guardrails on an industrial truck work platform, whether an employer can repair an extension cord under 29 CFR 1926, Subpart K, and clarification of specialty footwear and employer requirements to provide at no cost to its employees. View the letters here.

Understanding OSHA recordables
Understanding your responsibilities related to OSHA recordables can be a challenge. A great resource is the Advanced Safety and Health News Blog. There are helpful quizzes as well as articles. Here’s one example:

Quiz #10:

Here is the scenario:
An employee reports to work. A few hours later, the employee goes outside for a “smoke break.”
The employee slips on the ice and injures his back. Since the employee was not performing a task related to the employee’s work, the company has deemed this incident non-work related and therefore not recordable.

Right or wrong?

Under Section 1904.5(b)(2)(v), an injury or illness is not work-related if it is solely the result of an employee doing personal tasks (unrelated to their employment) at the establishment “outside of the employee’s assigned working hours.” For this exception to apply, the case must meet both of the stated conditions. The exception does not apply here because the injury or illness occurred within normal working hours. Therefore, your case in question is work-related, and if it meets the general recording criteria under Section 1904.7 the case must be recorded.