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Congressional committee approves big increase in OSHA penalties

A U.S. House of Representatives committee has approved a five-fold increase in penalties for violations of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

If this change is finalized by Congress, the maximum penalties for “willful,” “repeated,” and “failure-to-abate” violations would rise from $136,532 to $700,000.

For such violations, the minimum penalty would rise from $9,753 to $50,000.

Penalties for violations defined as “serious” would increase from a current maximum level of $13,653 to $70,000.

These increases were approved by the House Committee on Education and Labor as part of a plan to “invest in increased enforcement of labor law … and set meaningful civil monetary penalties for violations of wage and hour, worker safety and labor laws.”

The plan also includes a $707 million budget for OSHA, indicating a further intention to step up enforcement.

The increases in this bill have been proposed in Congress in the past but were never approved. The House is expected to vote on the measure and send it to the Senate.

The last time significant OSHA penalty increases were enacted was in 2016. Since then, annual penalty increases have been tied to the Consumer Price Index, leading to gradual increases every year. At that time, Congress also increased the penalty for “willful” and “repeated” violations from $70,000 per item to $124,709.

If the increased penalties go into effect, they are so steep that they could make it impossible for some companies to remain in business. Such an increase will also cause a likely increase in legal costs due to more appeals of penalty citations.

Back in 2006, a similar penalty hike under the Mine Safety and Health Act led to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) experiencing a major backlog in cases.

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