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December 04, 2013
OSHA responds to employer's inaction with big fines

A refrigerator refurbishing company got the cold shoulder from OSHA for not correcting workplace hazards cited during previous inspections. What are “failure to abate” citations, and how can you avoid them? Keep reading to find out.

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In April 2013, OSHA cited this business for 15 serious safety and health violations and proposed $16,447 in fines for risks associated with fire, explosions, falls, and chemical hazards. According to the agency, the employer failed to respond to the citations and to OSHA’s repeated attempts to reach them. As a result, OSHA opened a follow-up inspection. Now, the business is facing more than $108,000 in additional fines.

The OSHA area director said employees at the site continue to be exposed to fire, explosion, falls, and chemical hazards, and are unable to exit swiftly in an emergency.  She added, “Employers must understand that ignoring OSHA citations and fines carries consequences, even beyond finances. The health and well-being of their employees are at stake.”

Types of OSHA citations

Willful. An employer has demonstrated either intentional disregard for the requirements of the OSH Act or plain indifference to employee safety and health. Penalties range from $5,000 to $70,000 per willful violation. If an employer is convicted of a willful violation that has resulted in an employee fatality, the offense is punishable by a court fine or by imprisonment for up to six months or both. Criminal conviction can result in fines of up to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a corporation.

Serious. A serious violation means there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a condition that exists, or from practices, operations, or processes. OSHA may propose a penalty of up to $7,000 for each violation.

Other-than-serious. This type of violation is results from a condition that is hazardous and has a direct relationship to employees’ safety and health, but would probably not cause death or serious physical harm. OSHA may impose a penalty of up to $7,000 for each violation.

De Minimis. These are conditions in which an employer has implemented a measure different from one specified in a standard that has no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. These conditions do not result in citations or penalties.

Failure to Abate. In this case, a previously cited hazardous condition has not been brought into compliance since the prior inspection and is discovered at a later inspection. If the violation is corrected but later reoccurs, the subsequent occurrence is a repeat violation. OSHA may impose a penalty of up to $7,000 per day for each violation.

Repeat. A repeated violation is one that has been cited previously within the last 5 years for the same or a substantially similar condition or hazard and the citation has become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC). Repeat violations can bring a civil penalty of up to $70,000 for each violation.

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