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OSHA to raise penalty amounts; contest rate might increase as well (9/29)

“Next month, OSHA will formally launch a new policy that increases our proposed penalties,” agency boss Dr. David Michaels told the Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission Annual Judicial Conference in Charleston, SC this past Tuesday, September 14.

”We are well aware that our increases in penalty amounts may raise the contest rate, affecting not only OSHA but also the Solicitors' Office and the OSH Review Commission, but we do not foresee the magnitude of change that occurred when the Mine Safety and Health Act was amended several years ago. Changes to that program went well beyond modifications in penalty levels,” said Michaels.

“Enforcement remains a priority for us because it is a proven, useful deterrent, even for the best employers who may be tempted to defer maintenance or cut corners on worker training and safety procedures. The threat of enforcement and penalties reminds all employers to do the right thing for their workers,” said Michaels.

“By the end of this month and the current fiscal year, OSHA will have issued more egregious and significant cases than it has at any time in the last decade. We expect to issue 19 egregious cases this year and close to 160 significant cases - including the $87 million dollars issued against BP and the $16 million dollar case against the Kleen Energy facility.

“What we really need to get employers' attention is the threat of criminal penalties to respond to criminal negligence. Few things focus the mind like the possibility of doing time behind bars,” said Michaels.

“In many instances, when questioned by our inspectors, employers admit that they know what they need to do to protect their workers, but they decided to ignore the rules - exhibiting a callous "catch me if you can" mentality that puts profit before prevention and gambles with peoples' lives.

“Citing employers - and making those citations stick - will send the right message to employers who, too often, consider worker deaths simply one of the costs of doing business,” said the OSHA chief.

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