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OSHA Penalties: What Your Business Faces and How to Avoid Them

Human Resources

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) takes workplace safety very seriously. Violations of its safety guidelines can result in OSHA penalties of significant cost and time-consuming distraction to businesses.

Here are the broad categories of OSHA violations and penalties:

  • Other than Serious Violation. Infractions with a direct relationship to job safety and health, but not a cause of severe physical harm or death. Penalty: Up to $7,000 for each violation.
  • Serious Violation. A violation in which it's highly likely that death or serious physical injury can result and that the employer knew — or should have known — about the risk to employees. Penalty: Up to $7,000 for each violation.
  • Willful Violation. A violation in which an employer who consciously disregards OSHA regulations or does so with indifference to the law. Penalties: Up to $70,000 for each violation, with minimum penalty of $5,000 for each. If the violation of OSHA rules results in an employee fatality, the business faces criminal prosecution and a minimum individual fine of $250,000 or $500,000 for the corporation.
  • Repeat Violation. Repeated violations of regulations, rules, or orders occur following an initial inspection and penalty. Penalty: Up to $70,000 for each violation.
  • Failure to Abate Prior Violation. If an employer neglects to remedy a violation within OSHA timelines, he or she faces a possible penalty of $7,000 for each day the violation remains uncorrected.

According to some estimates, up to five million American workers experience a work-related illness or injury every year. With OSHA penalties for disregarding or failing to follow safety guidelines being so stiff, what can you and your small business do to avoid running afoul of this federal safety agency?

Fix any Existing Violations Immediately

Check to see if your business is guilty of any minor violations — blocked safety exits, insufficient supply of protective equipment like goggles and gloves, improper storage of hazardous materials, etc. — and fix them right away.

Keep Accurate Records

An OSHA inspection can be triggered by errors in documentation, so employers are strongly encouraged to maintain accurate records of all workplace-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths. If any gaps exist in your OSHA 300 log for the past three to five years — particularly with respect to Hazard Communications and Personal Protective Equipment — fill in the missing information as soon as possible.

Maintain All Equipment

How can you know about potential equipment malfunctions that violate OSHA regulations without ongoing equipment maintenance? Regular inspections of machinery and tools can prevent injuries and keep you in federally mandated compliance.

Train Employees in Safety Practices

Ongoing safety training for all employees can significantly reduce the number of incidences of workplace injury or illness. The more employees know, the more careful they're likely to be in the workplace.

Pay Attention to Ergonomics

OSHA inspectors are especially concerned with repetitive motion disorders afflicting American workers. Investigate ergonomic solutions to reduce the number of musculoskeletal issues your employees may face as a result of their daily working habits.

Do the Research

Ignorance of OSHA regulations and guidelines is not an acceptable defense, in the event your business is suspected of safety violations. OSHA offers a comprehensive list of FAQs to cover most related topics and there are many other online articles and resources for you to draw on.

Some businesses make the critical mistake of regarding worker safety as an expense, rather than an investment. Maintaining equipment and taking other preventive measures to protect your employees requires time and money, but the alternatives — prolonged employee absences due to illness or injury, and/or the threat of expensive OSHA penalties — are far worse.

Your employees depend on you to provide a safe working environment. The federal government has a system in place to ensure you honor this commitment; therefore putting a safety program for your business in place is a wise investment.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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