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OSHA fines for work safety violations up in 2011

The workplace can be dangerous. Considering that we seem to spend more time at work than at home, and the fact that companies face pressure to produce more with less, it should come as no surprise that the rate of personal injury on the job is as high as it is.

There are laws intended to ensure workplace safety and there are agencies to enforce them. In Maryland, we have the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. In Washington, there's the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Recently, officials at OSHA reported that fines against companies with serious workplace safety violations went up in fiscal 2011. It wasn't necessarily because of increased infractions. Rather, officials say they adjusted the rates for fines upward. The result was that average penalties rose from about $1,000 in 2010 to more than $2,100 in 2011. That represents a 102 percent increase. It also compares with the average $998 fine that was imposed in 2008 during the Bush administration.

Despite the increase, the penalties are still not high enough as far as Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels is concerned. He says the maximum penalty possible for a serious violation is $7,000. But as he puts it, "We give out citations associated with fatalities for a few thousand dollars."

Michaels offered the statistics during a meeting last month of OSHA's Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. In defense of the fine hikes, Michaels said the move toward maximizing the penalties for safety violations has the effect of punishing violating companies, but also sending a message about the need for safety to whole industries.

Source:, "Fines for Serious Violations Double in 2011; Number of OSHA Inspections Drops Slightly," Bruce Rolfsen, Jan. 5, 2012

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