OSHA Inspections: Employer Rights and Responsibilities – Types of Violations

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have the responsibility to provide safe work environments. Pursuant to the Act, an OSHA officer conducts inspections of work environments and reports the findings to the OSHA director for evaluation. When a violation exists, an employer will be issued a citation and notification of penalty detailing the violation and associated penalties.

When settling a penalty, OSHA follows a policy to reduce penalties for small employers and employers that act in good faith. There are several types of violations with a varying range of penalties. A Willful violation exists where an employer demonstrates an intentional disregard for and indifference to employee safety and health. Penalties for willful violations range from $5,000.00 to $7,000.00 per violation.

Serious violations exist in a place of employment if there is a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm could result from a condition which exists, or from practices, means, methods, operations or processes that are in use, unless the employer did not, and could not, know of the presence of the violation. OSHA may impose a penalty of up to $7,000.00 for each serious violation.

“Other-than-serious” violations exist where an accident or illness resulting from a hazardous condition may not cause death or serious physical harm, but directs an immediate relationship to the safety and health of employees. For “other-than-serious” violations, OSHA may impose up to $7,000.00 for each violation.

A “failure-to-abate” violation exists where a previously cited hazardous condition has not been rectified since the prior inspection and is discovered at a subsequent inspection. However, if the original violation was corrected, but later reoccurs, the subsequent violation is categorized as a repeated violation. Again, OSHA may impose up to $7,000.00 for each failure to abate violation.

Finally, repeated violations exist where an employer has been previously cited for a violation, within the last five years, for the same or similar hazard, and the citation has become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Board. Repeated violations can bring a civil penalty up to $70,000.00 for each violation.

OSHA violations should not be taken lightly. When faced with a violation, consultation with an attorney to make sure you understand the violation, handle it properly, and take steps to prevent future violations is always the best course of action.

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