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Are You Ready for the Increase in OSHA Violation Fines?

For the first time in over two decades, OSHA has increased monetary penalties for violations

In August 2016, OSHA penalty limits increased 78 percent, and on January 13, 2017, penalty limits were again increased over 1 percent. And to make matters worse, going forward, OSHA will continue to adjust its penalties for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index.

How can this impact your company?

When the initial increases went into effect in 2016, they reflected a catch-up for more than 20 years without monetary adjustments. That meant a staggering increase of 78 percent for maximum penalties, driving serious and other-than-serious penalties from a ceiling of $7,000 to more than $12,000 and, for willful and repeat violations, upwards of $120,000.

Types of violations

Serious: Serious violations are those which contain a “substantial probability that death or serious harm can result and that the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.” Over 70 percent of all federal violations fall into this group. Serious violations frequently result from fall hazards, unsafe electrical conditions, and lockout/tagout inadequacies. Penalty maximum for serious violation is set at $12,675 for 2017.

Other-than-Serious: OSHA defines Other-than-Serious as a violation that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm. These represent the second most common type of violation. Recordkeeping issues often cause Other-than-Serious violations. Penalty maximum for other-than-serious violation is set at $12,675 for 2017.

Failure to Abate Prior Violation: If you’ve had a recent inspection and are cited for violations, you must make corrections in an appropriate time frame designated by OSHA. If you do not do so, you may be issued a “Failure to Abate Prior Violation.” These carry the same penalties as Serious or Other-than-Serious violations, but are assessed for each day the violation continues beyond the abatement date. In 2017, that penalty is $12,675 per day beyond the abatement date.

Willful Violation: When a violation demonstrates intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health, it may be deemed willful. Good faith effort is not applicable to reduce willful violation penalties. In addition to extensive OSHA penalties, criminal sanctions can follow if a willful violation results in a workplace fatality. Penalty maximum for willful violation is set at $126,749 for 2017.

Repeat Violation: If an employer is re-inspected and found to have a similar condition or hazard that was previously cited by OSHA within the past five years, they may be subject to a repeat violation. Penalty maximum for repeat violation is set at $126,749 for 2017.

Prevent violations

Proactive methods are essential to stay ahead of potential citations. Be vigilant for possible hazards through risk management and job safety analyses (JSAs).

Reactive methods can also be used to identify problem area. If you’ve had a previous inspection within the past five years, ensure that your company is continually addressing any hazards similar to those previously cited, which help eliminate expensive repeat violation penalties. Maintaining proper injury and illness records also aids in identification of current issues.  

You can prevent some types of inspections and subsequent penalties, too. If your safety and health program is solid, the risk of inspections due to injuries and illnesses can be reduced. The best method to prevent injuries and illnesses is also the best method to avoid costly violations.


Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at

Think Safety. Think Grainger.®
Grainger has the products, services and resources to help keep employees safe and healthy while operating safer facilities. You’ll also find a network of safety resources that help you stay in compliance and protect employees from hazardous situations. Count on Grainger for lockout tagout, fall protection equipment, confined space products, safety signs, personal protective equipment (PPE), emergency response and so much more!

DISCLAIMER:The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

©2016 W.W. Grainger, Inc.