The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, enforces workplace safety in the United States. Businesses and work sites are subject to periodic OSHA inspections, and employee safety complaints can also trigger OSHA inspections. These inspections may detect violations of OSHA codes that range from minor to extremely hazardous. There are six specific categories of OSHA violations, each of which carries either a recommended or a mandatory penalty.
De Minimis Violations
A de minimis violation is a technical violation of OSHA rules that have no direct impact on health or safety. It is the least serious class of violation, and OSHA inspectors do not levy fines or issue citations for these violations. Inspectors verbally inform employers about de minimis violations and list them on the employer's case inspection file. A ladder with 13 inches between rungs rather than 12 inches is an example of a de minimis violation.
A violation of OSHA rules that would not usually cause death or serious injury but that is nevertheless related to job safety or employee health is considered an other-than-serious violation. The maximum penalty for each such violation is $7,000. However, inspectors can choose not to levy a fine, or to reduce the penalty by as much as 95 percent. Inspectors make decisions about penalties based on factors such as the size of the business and the cooperativeness of its owner. Failure to provide copies of safety regulations and failure to post required documentation in work areas are considered other-than-serious OSHA violations.
When an employer knows of or should know of a situation that has a definite chance of causing serious injury or death, but does not remedy it, OSHA issues a serious violation. Inspectors must assess a penalty of up to $7,000 for each serious violation, but they can adjust penalties based upon the seriousness of each particular violation, as well as the employer's previous history, the size of the business, and the good faith of the employer. Failure to ensure that employees who carry heavy loads wear steel-toe boots is an example of a serious violation.
The most serious violation category is willful violations, and it is reserved for intentional violations of OSHA rules or situations that show disregard for employee health and safety. The minimum penalty for each willful violation is $5,000 and the maximum fine is $70,000. If an employee is killed, the violation becomes a criminal offense with a minimum fine of $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a corporation. An individual who is convicted of a fatal willful violation can also be imprisoned for up to six months. An example of a serious violation might involve a fatal crushing accident because the employer did not implement adequate safety procedures for equipment that had caused prior crushing injuries.
If an employer is cited for a particular violation, and a subsequent inspection reveals another identical or very similar violation, OSHA inspectors may cite the employer for a repeated violation. The maximum fine for a repeated violation is $70,000. However, if the employer contests the original violation and is awaiting a final OSHA decision, inspectors cannot consider a violation of the same type to be a repeated violation.
Failure to Abate Prior Violation
When an employer receives a violation citation, the citation includes a date by which the employer must remedy the situation. If the employer does not do so on or before the specified date, it may be liable for a fine of $7,000 per day from the day after the specified date until it remedies the condition.