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Bipartisan Budget Act Prompts Large Increases in OSHA Fines

The fines assessed against employers in Connecticut and around the country for violating workplace safety regulations increased by up to 78 percent in August 2016. These financial penalties had remained largely unchanged for several years, but a key provision of the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act required federal agencies covered by the legislation, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to update their penalties in order to bring them into line with increases in the cost of living.

Under the revised penalty schedule, the average fine assessed by OSHA for serious workplace safety violations against employers with 250 or fewer workers increased by 54 percent from $3,285 to $5,087. However, large employers will now be fined an average of $10,065 for each serious violation. This represents an increase of 70 percent over the previous fine schedule.

To prevent similar increases in the future, the Bipartisan Budget Act also requires agencies to update their fine schedules each year according to inflation. When OSHA made these adjustments in January, changes in the Consumer Price Index led to the fine for willful and repeat violations being increased to $126,749. The agency also announced a surge in the number of serious injuries and fatalities reported in 2016. The increase was largely the result of rules introduced in 2015 that require employers to notify OSHA when workplace accidents cause the loss of an eye, the amputation of a limb or the hospitalization of a single worker.

Employers that willfully ignore OSHA safety regulations may face more than federal fines when workers are injured or killed on the job. The victims of workplace accidents generally file workers' compensation claims, but attorneys with experience in this area may suggest that they file lawsuits instead when employer negligence could amount to a deliberate intent to cause harm. Injured workers who file lawsuits may seek punitive damages, and records of OSHA fines leveled against their employers could be used by the attorneys pursuing these cases to establish a pattern of recklessly negligent behavior.

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