In recent years, the Department of Labor, DOL for short, has renewed its commitment to enforce labor laws, promoting the safety and health of American workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA for short, was created in 1970 to ensure safe and healthy conditions for all workers. It is OSHA’s responsibility to set and enforce safety standards that employers must comply with in order to provide employees with the safest workplace possible. Just last month, OSHA issued two memorandums indicating that they are stepping up their focus on the enforcement of labor laws. In Fact, both memorandums were issued by OSHA’s Directorate for Enforcement Programs.
According to the DOL, OSHA “has issued new enforcement guidance to make its penalties more effective in stopping employers from repeatedly exposing workers to life-threatening hazards or failing to comply with certain workplace safety and health requirements.”
The first memorandum, Application of Instance-by-Instance Penalty Adjustment, gives OSHA Regional Administrators and Area Office Directors the authority to cite certain types of violations as “instance-by-instance citations.” This includes cases where the agency identifies “high-gravity” serious violations of OSHA standards specific to certain conditions. Specifically when the language of the rule supports a citation for each instance of non-compliance. The purpose of this change is to encourage OSHA personnel to apply the full authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Act where increased citations will in fact discourage non-compliance.
Conditions Where Instance-by-Instance Citations May Apply:
- Machine guarding
- Permit-required confined space
- Respiratory protection
- Other-than-serious violations specific to recordkeeping
The second memorandum, Exercising Discretion When Not to Group Violations, states that it is “intended to reiterate existing policy that allows Regional Administrators and Area Directors discretion to not group violations in appropriate cases to achieve a deterrent effect.” Instead they should cite them separately, with the goal of effectively encouraging employers to comply with the the OSH Act.
This updated guidance covers enforcement activity in general industry, agriculture, maritime and construction industries, and becomes effective 60 days from Jan. 26, 2023. Since the current policy has been in place for more than 30 years and applies only to egregious willful citations, these aggressive changes make it clear that OSHA is focused on deterring employers from ignoring their responsibilities to keep workers safe.
Doug Parker, Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health explained the changes this way, “Smart, impactful enforcement means using all the tools available to us when an employer ‘doesn’t get it’ and will respond to only additional deterrence in the form of increased citations and penalties. This is intended to be a targeted strategy for those employers who repeatedly choose to put profits before their employees’ safety, health and wellbeing. Employers who callously view injured or sickened workers simply as a cost of doing business will face more serious consequences.”
OSHA has delivered remarkable progress in improving the safety of America’s work force. Workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities have fallen dramatically over the years. OSHA has tackled fatal safety hazards and health risks by establishing common sense standards and enforcing the law against those who put workers at risk. OSHA standards and enforcement actions have saved thousands of lives and prevented countless injuries and illnesses. Looking to the future, OSHA is renewing its commitment to protecting workers by promoting best practices that can save lives.