Our friends at OSHA have memories like elephants and they also can hold a grudge for up to five years! I received an article recently from the great folks at Business and Legal Reports that explains how serious repeat (or willful) violations of previously-cited OSHA standards can be.
The article mentioned a well-known furniture manufacturing company that was cited over $1 million for repeat violations found in their Midwest plant. It seems that after the first inspection which resulted in some serious safety violations, the plant failed to correct the issues for which they were cited. A subsequent inspection found many of the SAME violations of OSHA health and safety standards – hence the hefty fine.
Willful or repeat violations carry fines up to $70,000 per occurrence. It doesn’t take many of these to drive most companies to the poor house.
What is Considered an OSHA Willful Violation?
OSHA considers a violation to be a “repeat” if within the last five years a company has been cited for a violation of OSHA standards and the same violation is discovered again. They go so far to consider violations found in another location of the same company repeat if they were cited in a different location the first time. For example, say your Oklahoma City warehouse was cited five years ago for failing to properly train and certify forklift drivers. If OSHA discovers the same violation in your Dallas warehouse, the violation is considered a “repeat”. The $70,000 fine comes into play at that point.
A violation is considered “willful” if it is committed with intentional, knowing, or voluntary disregard for the requirements of the OSHA standard, or with plain indifference to employee safety and health. If OSHA has already cited your company for a situation that either has not been corrected – or HAS been corrected but is allowed to recur, or one that occurs on a different piece of equipment or at a different location, OSHA believes you have no concern for the health and safety of your employees. Willful violations can carry the same $70,000 fine per occurrence.
What Does This Mean for Your Company?
If your company is inspected by OSHA and you are cited for a violation of an OSHA standard, you MUST correct the problem in such a manner that a recurrence of the same violation cannot happen.
For example, say you are cited for failure to require your employees to wear safety goggles when they operate the bench grinder. To prevent a willful or repeat violation, you must implement a program to train your employees on the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as mandate that appropriate PPE be worn when performing tasks where it is required. You must also document the training and any violations of your safety rules that occur after the training has been completed. A record of any disciplinary action taken against violators will help you defuse a potential “willful” violation claim by OSHA on subsequent inspections.
OSHA does indeed have a long memory. Once your company has been cited for violations of an OSHA standard, they most certainly will make a return visit to ensure you have taken appropriate measures to prevent a future occurrence. Once you are on their radar, an unannounced audit by a Field Compliance Auditor can occur at any time.
Don’t put your business at risk by failing to take citations from OSHA seriously! The Safety Team at Employers Resource works with our clients to correct any cited violations to help ensure that no willful or repeat violations come along in the future.