The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is supposed to investigate workplaces, identify violations, and fine employers. Unfortunately, understaffing means OSHA investigations are rare unless triggered by a reportable worker injury, a worker death, or a complaint to OSHA. While a lack of regular investigations is a serious problem for worker safety, there are other issues as well. OHSA fines have not increased since 1990, which means the fines are often too low to act as an effective deterrent to force employers to actually take action to protect their workers.
Whether an employer is fined by OSHA or found to be in violation of workplace safety laws does not make a different in whether an injured Atlanta worker can make an injury claim. Any employee hurt on-the-job can file a benefits claim and receive coverage for medical bills, as well as disability income, with the help of an Atlanta workers’ comp lawyer. However, larger OSHA fines could perhaps help to prevent some injuries before they happen because employers would be more concerned about penalties and would be more likely to actually follow worker protection laws. The good news is, OSHA fines may actually finally be increasing for the first time in decades.
OSHA Fines Could Help Reduce Atlanta Work Injury Risks
Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration have agreed upon language in the federal budget bill that would result in a significant rise in OSHA fines. Although the budget bill has not yet passed and it is not yet 100 percent clear the new fines will actually make it into the final agreement, the chances are good the penalties for worker safety violations will finally be going up at long last.
Because it has been so long since fines increased, the penalties would go up 80 percent right away, according to a section of the budget bill entitled: Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements. This increase is being referred to as a “catch-up adjustment” dating back to 1990. The 80 percent jump is based on the Consumer Price Index, which the fine swill be tied to. The CPI rose 78.24 percent between October of 1990 and September of 2015.
To ensure there is not a decades-long gap before the fines are raised again, the Act also specifies that the fines will increase annually based on the rate of inflation after the initial 80 percent jump. The new fines would first take effect no later than August 1, 2016 and fines would rise annually each year thereafter based on increases in the CPI. However, the head of OSHA could decide not to impose the additional increases during the first years after the 80 percent jump if the Director of the Office of Management and Budget agreed.
The new fines mean the maximum penalty for repeat or willful violations would jump from $70,000 to $124,768, and the maximum fine for a serious violation would increase from $7,000 to $12,477. The new fines would provide much needed additional protection to vulnerable workers, although employees may continue to need help getting workers’ compensation insurers to pay out claims as promised after work injuries actually occur.
Parsons & Associates, P.C. is an Atlanta workers’ compensation law firm serving Atlanta, Savannah, and surrounding areas throughout Fulton County. Contact Parsons & Associates, P.C. today at 770-422-9000 or contact us online if you have been injured at work.