OSHA Launches "Aggressive" Workplace Safety Program
April 30, 2010

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is implementing a new Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP) and increasing civil penalty amounts.

"For many employers, investing in job safety happens only when they have adequate incentives to comply with OSHA's requirements," says Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. "Higher penalties and more aggressive, targeted enforcement will provide a greater deterrent and further encourage these employers to furnish safe and healthy workplaces for their employees."

The new SVEP is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law. This supplemental enforcement tool includes increased OSHA inspections in these worksites, including mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections, and inspections of other worksites of the same employer where similar hazards and deficiencies may be present. OSHA says SVEP will become effective by early June.

Last year, OSHA assembled a work group to evaluate its penalty policies and found currently assessed penalties are too low to have an adequate deterrent effect. Based on the group's findings and recommendations, several administrative changes to the penalty calculation system, outlined in the agency's Field Operations Manual, are being made. These administrative enhancements will become effective in the next several months. The penalty changes will increase the overall dollar amount of all penalties while maintaining OSHA's policy of reducing penalties for small employers and those acting in good faith.

The current maximum penalty for a serious violation, one capable of causing death or serious physical harm, is only $7,000 and the maximum penalty for a willful violation is $70,000. The average penalty for a serious violation will increase from about $1,000 to an average $3,000 to $4,000. Monetary penalties for violations of the OSH Act have been increased only once in 40 years despite inflation. The Protecting America's Workers Act would raise these penalties (for the first time since 1990) to $12,000 and $250,000, respectively. Future penalty increases would also be tied to inflation.

"OSHA enforcement and penalties are not just a reaction to workplace tragedies. They serve an important preventive function. OSHA inspections and penalties must be large enough to discourage employers from cutting corners or underfunding safety programs to save a few dollars," says Dr. Michaels.

Those in the glass industry agree that workplace safety and OSHA compliance is critical for the safety of all employees.

"The float and fabricated glass industry on average has a 27 percent higher incident rate than manufacturing in general (based on 2008 OSHA data). This makes it all the more important that we keep our efforts focused on employee safety," says Mike Marsala, safety and loss control manager for Guardian Industries in Auburn Hills, Mich. "Safety has always been an integral part of Guardian's culture and we pride ourselves as being a safety leader in both our industry and manufacturing in general."

Jason Kleeberger, safety manager for Viracon in Owatonna, Minn., agrees that safety must be top priority for any glass company.

"In our industry, the awareness of safety concerns in handling glass must be continuously evaluated and emphasized, especially as design trends push for larger and heavier make-up configurations," Kleeberger says.

CLICK HERE to read more about the SVEP.

CLICK HERE to read more on the penalty policy.

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