Hopefully our readers haven’t had any problems with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the federal agency charged with overseeing workplace safety standards, but it never hurts to be prepared so let’s take a look at what’s new at OSHA in 2016. Michael Rubin, Stefan A. Borovina, and Goldberg Segalla of Industry Week have taken stock of four of the biggest developments coming out of the agency this year.
First up is bigger fines. Thanks to an obscure provision in the federal budget, OSHA will be permitted to raise its penalties for the first time in 25 years, rates are expected to go up by 82% in part to catch up with inflation. So businesses will have an even greater incentive to comply with federal regulations. Another method of enforcement that will be getting beefed up is public shaming. OSHA has traditionally issued press releases identifying employers accused of breaking the law, but under a new rule that was submitted for final review in 2015, employers will soon face a heightened level of shaming. If approved, the rule will require employers with 250 or more employees to electronically submit injury and illness records to OSHA on a quarterly basis. Smaller employers will be required to electronically file their Form 300A, which summarizes their annual injury and illness data. After OSHA redacts the submission to remove any personal identification information of the injured employee, it will publish the record on its website.
Another change, that was announced in September 2015, is a new enforcement weighting system that assigns greater value to complex inspections requiring more time and resources. The goal of this new system is to encourage the agency’s inspectors to take on more complex inspections such as those involving ergonomic hazards, chemical exposures, workplace violence, and Process Safety Management violations. Finally, OSHA has updated its field manual to reduce the amount an inspector can deduct from a fine, as well giving greater discretion to inspectors by allowing them to deny employer/employee participation in an inspection. Additionally, workers can authorize a third party to act as a representative during an inspection if they don’t have a recognized bargaining agent, and now a fatality or other catastrophic event at a multi-employer worksite can trigger one or more unprogrammed inspections for the other employers.