It appears that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) wants to do more than collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. They're taking additional steps by targeting traditional safety incentive programs and releasing negative press reports for businesses that pay minimal fines. Safety should always be a business's first priority, but this "gotcha" mentality appears to be getting out of hand.
Attempts To Embarrass
Many employers are complaining that while traditionally the agency only published reports for fatalities and substantial fines, OSHA is not putting out press releases about smaller offenders.
Some experts believe that the negative press is used as a hammer to embarrass employers and give incentives for maintaining a safer workplace.
Higher Penalties on the Horizon
Employers need to prepare for higher OSHA penalties since President Obama has allowed the government agency to increase fines for the first time in many years. Increases are expected to range from 75% to 80% as the agency plays catch-up for not increasing fines from 1990 to 2015.
Businesses, especially repeat offenders, should consider the new penalties as a "safety hammer" and prepare accordingly by initiating comprehensive safety programs that should play a large part in reducing preventable accidents in the workplace.
Differences in Opinions
New rules have many employers scratching their respective heads since logic seems to have been tossed out of the window. For example, OSHA believes that post-accident drug testing is a bad thing since it could cause employees impaired by drug or alcohol use to delay reporting an accident. Since about a third of workplace accidents involve employees who are impaired by drug or alcohol use, employers feel that post-accident drug testing should be mandatory to help determine if the accident was truly a safety issue.
The general duty clause is another area of contention since it is used to penalize employers. Simply put, the general duty clause requires the employer to provide a workplace from hazards that cause or may cause harm to an employee. Employers have become vocal that the general duty clause has become "extraordinarily controversial" over the past few years and is now being used to address areas of entertainment. Employers are now complaining that OSHA is now deciding what is and isn't considered as acceptable entertainment, and the list goes on.
Solutions to Consider
You can't fight city hall if you don't know and understand the rules. Employers should attend as many conferences regarding OSHA and Workers Compensation as possible. Knowing and understanding the rules of workplace safety is the employer's first responsibility. The employer can make informal contact with their local OSHA office to inquire about areas of concerns and OSHA expectations for mitigation.
Since it has become obvious that the agency is looking for opportunities to spotlight safety violations and collect the resulting fines and penalties, it is incumbent upon the employer to look for gaps in their safety programs and make the necessary corrections as soon as possible.
It should go without saying that no business wishes to become a repeat offender, so use your resources wisely to get to the root of any safety issues. A fine is bad enough, and adding a negative press release can be devastating to your company's reputation.
Have questions about OSHA and how it effects your business? Contact Skyline Risk Management, Inc. (718) 267-6600 to discuss your concerns.